Friday, April 27, 2012

Interview: Ruta Sepetys

Today I have a special treat for you: an interview with the author of Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys! 

This book has earned a honorable place in my heart, not just because of her writing (which is phenomenal) but because she has made the world a better place by telling a story that next to no one actually knows. 

My grandparents were persecuted by Stalin and barely escaped with their lives. I grew up knowing the story of the genocide hidden right before the Holocaust. I couldn't believe the masses that didn't share my knowledge. For giving these shadowed figures a voice, Ruta has earned a great deal of my respect. 

Let's jump right in to the questions! 


Can you tell us about yourself?

RS – I was born and raised in Michigan in a family of artists, readers, and music lovers. For nearly twenty years I worked in the music industry, managing the careers of recording artists, musicians and songwriters. One day, one of my clients said, “Ruta, you’ve spent years helping musicians tell their stories, but what’s your story?” That question sparked a career transition. I started writing.

What was the first thing you wrote, the one that decided for you that you were going to be a writer?

RS – Well, the first thing I wrote was a middle-grade mystery. Fortunately, a literary agent encouraged me to put that book aside and write “Between Shades of Gray” instead. I’m so grateful for that early advice!

Can you tell us about your book? Without giving it away, of course. 

RS – The book is set in 1941 and deals with a piece of WWII history that’s not often talked about – the crimes of Stalin. The story follows fifteen-year-old artist, Lina Vilkas, who is arrested with her mother and younger brother and deported from Lithuania to Siberia. The story chronicles not only their fight to survive, but their struggle to retain faith in mankind.

If you could go into one scene in your book and stand by your character's side instead of in heir head, which scene would it be? If not in your book, it could be from a story you read. 

RS – Wow, what a fantastic question! I would go into “Between Shades of Gray” and stand by Lina during the scene where she has to draw a portrait of the Soviet commander. It was such an awful scary scene to write.

What inspired Shades of Gray? 

RS – When I was in Lithuania meeting with relatives I learned that some of my grandfather’s extended family had been deported to Siberia. I was shocked and ashamed that I knew so little about Lithuania’s history. I decided to write the book to give voice to the hundreds of thousands of people who will never have a chance to tell their story.

Can you give one piece of advice to the writers out there?

RS – My one piece of advice would be to read. Good writers are good readers!


If you want to learn more about Ruta and her book, Between Shades of Gray, you can visit her website or at

If you haven't read her book, you should. You never know, you might really like it. I know I did. You can buy it on Amazon, Kindle, or just check it out from your local library!

From her website:
In 1941, fifteen-year-old Lina is preparing for art school, first dates, and all that summer has to offer. But one night, the Soviet secret police barge violently into her home, deporting her along with her mother and younger brother. They are being sent to Siberia. Lina's father has been separated from the family and sentenced to death in a prison camp. All is lost.
Lina fights for her life, fearless, vowing that if she survives she will honor her family, and the thousands like hers, by documenting their experience in her art and writing. She risks everything to use her art as messages, hoping they will make their way to her father's prison camp to let him know they are still alive.
It is a long and harrowing journey, and it is only their incredible strength, love, and hope that pull Lina and her family through each day. But will love be enough to keep them alive?
Between Shades of Gray is a riveting novel that steals your breath, captures your heart, and reveals the miraculous nature of the human spirit.

Thank you all for reading, good luck, and keep writing!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Regional Dialect

Regional dialect is basically writing what people speak. And, of course, people speak differently in different places. They have different customs and accents and idioms.

For example, I bring up the classic debate of "soda vs. pop". Where I'm from, it's soda. The idea of calling it "pop" makes me giggle. But in some other place in America, probably up North, calling it "soda" would make them giggle.

This doesn't just extend to vocabulary - think of the Southern tendency to drop the "g" off of some verbs: runnin', or hoppin', or jumpin'. Grammar and sayings are a large part of this. In America, we say we're just kidding, or we're messing with you. In Australia, they say they're just stirring with you. Also, don't forget brands - where we have Lays and Nestle, Australians have Shapes and Tim Tams. (I know this because my dad's family lives in Australia; my mother loves it when they send over Tim Tams.)

It's a bit much to comprehend, when you think about it. All those cultures out there... not to mention they change over time, so if your story takes place in the 1800s, you'll have to look up the dialect from that time period as well.

When making up your own regional dialect, for your Killonia or New Narnia, make sure it flows nicely. You don't explain it to your readers: just make it somewhat easy for them to follow. Like in American slang, "swag" is referred to when you're arrogant and cool and swaggering about the place like an idiot. *ahem* At least, that's what I've picked up on. No offense to any swaggers out there. (By which I mean, no offense to the swagger-type people who I might actually like.)

When you need for your world to be a personal, special, or realistic world, you have to write what the people say, how they say it. And you have to write it in a way that readers understand. When you do it right, your world becomes a better place for the readers glimpsing it.

So, that concludes my pretty short post. This isn't a terribly difficult topic to explain. It's only difficult when you're writing about a place you've never been, and as a writer of mysterious things, you should relish the challenge.

Enjoy the weekend, make good choices, and y'all have a blessed day!  

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Interview: Annie from The Epic, the Awesome, and the Random

Today I have a special treat for you all. Meet Annie, a fellow blogger, avid reader, and fantastic writer. She's here (metaphorically) from her blog, The Epic, the Awesome, and the Random. Everyone give a warm welcome!


Tell me a little about yourself. What's your current project? Favorite book? The name of your blog? 

I'm Annie, a teenage girl, aspiring author, introvert, certified band geek, dreamer, and general lover of books.  I have a blog titled The Epic, the Awesome, and the Random, where I review books, give writing advice, and other assorted things.  It's so hard to name just one book as a favorite, so I'll mention several.  I've always been a huge fan of Christopher Paolini's Inheritence series, as well as D. J. MacHale's Pendragon series, Alison Goodman's Eon: Dragoneye Reborn, Maggie Stiefvater's The Scorpio Races, Markus Zusak's The Book Thief, and Patrick Carman's Thirteen Days to Midnight.  I've loved books and stories from a very young age, so I suppose that naturally led me to writing.  My current project is a young adult high fantasy novel titled Secrets of the Legend Chaser.  It's about a boy who steals dragon eggs while running from his past life, a lonely king, and an orphan whom everyone thinks is the king's missing son.  I'm currently in the revision stages, and as soon as it's polished and revised I plan to begin querying agents and pursuing publication, which has always been a dream of mine.

What was the first thing you ever wrote? If you can't remember a specific thing, what sorts of things did you start out with? (Poems, short story, start right out with a novel, etc.)

I wrote my first story when I was about five.  It was a short "book" about a dinosaur that gets captured and taken to a zoo (yeah, even my five-year-old self knew what a plot was, apparently), complete with marker illustrations and sequels.  All throughout elementary school and I wrote various short stories.  In middle school, I started writing poems (and I tried my hand at song lyrics) as well as stories.  I wrote in just about every genre--historical, fantasy, realistic, sci-fi, dystopian, paranormal, and more.  I've accumulated quite a collection of writing--I love to look back and see how much I've progressed.  During seventh and eighth grade I wrote two novellas (like novels, but not quite as long) featuring a four friends and their horses.  At the beginning of my freshman year of high school, I looked at one of the short stories I'd written, titled Emerald Spark.  I realized that the main character's story went far beyond what was in those four pages.  And so Secrets of the Legend Chaser came to be.  It's my first full-length novel, and the first very large piece of writing I've had to revise.  

You're farther along than most of us in our current novels, do you have any advice for those finishing up their stories and starting to revise?

The first step is actually finishing the project.  I cannot stress enough how utterly important this is.  It may sound completely obvious, but this is a huge step that many writers can't get past.  It's so easy to not finish a project, to get distracted by a shinier idea and abandon your current work in progress.  If you ever want to be a sucessful published author, people are going to expect you to finish books.  Once a writer gets to the point where they can finish a full-length book, they have taken a very important leap.  Once they get there, though, they also need to learn to revise.  Revision is the key to producing publishable novels.  It makes the jumbled plot a smooth ride, it makes the awkward prose into a work of art, and it makes the cardboard-cutout character into a living, breathing person.  Before revising, though, you have to let the work sit for a few weeks.  It's hard to revise something that's still so fresh in your mind.  By distancing yourself from the novel, you enable yourself to look at it with fresh eyes.  And before you start revising, you need a plan.  Don't just dive in--figure out what needs to be changed, and how you'll change it.  A plan of action will go a long way towards making your revision sucessful.

What got you started on a blog? 

 I used to scan the writing help forum on Inkpop quite frequently, and I noticed that I was able to answer many of the writing-related questions that people had.  I also realized that I enjoyed this.  At that time I was getting more and more into following writing and book review blogs, so I thought I had nothing to lose by starting one myself.  And so The Epic, the Awesome, and the Random was born.  I figured that instead of just helping a few people at a time, I could type up an article on writing and let all my followers, and anyone else who stumbled across the blog, see it.  My blog also has another aspect to it--I also write book reviews.  This came about because I was already noting things I liked or disliked as I read books, and it really wasn't much more work to type these thoughts up after I finished the book.  In all honesty, the blog has been far more sucessful than I thought it would be.  It can be very rewarding at times, like when a reader leaves a comment saying how much an article of mine helped them out.  That makes me smile every time.   

Do you have any quick advice to share with the bloggers out there? 

Don't expect huge amounts of followers right away.  You don't gain followers without effort.  The way you get people to read your blog is to write posts that have content worthy of reading.  This seems obvious, but it really is the truth.  If you regularly churn out articles that are informative/entertaining/whatever the purpose of your blog is, there's a good chance you'll eventually gain a following.  Also, if you want lots of readers, get your name out there.  Guest blogging on someone else's blog, commenting on other blogs, and generally interacting with other bloggers are all ways to make people aware of your presence.  Don't worry so much about your blog's design--it doesn't have to be fancy as long as you have good content.  Also, use spellcheck, and read through your posts at least once before you hit "publish".  Please, please, please.  It doesn't take much effort, and it'll save you from embarrassing and unprofessional errors.  Write about things that have meaning for you, things you care about.  Just like with all forms of writing, if you don't care about what you're writing about, then your readers won't, either.

Why do you write? Or why do you keep writing? 

I write because that's who I am.  Writing, for me, is not a hobby, nor a pastime.  I need to put words on paper, just like a musician needs to have sound coming out of their instrument, or a painter needs to put paint on a canvas.  It's a part of who I am.  I love creating stories, and writing is the way I get them out of my head and into the world.  There are definitely things I don't like about writing, but for every aspect I don't enjoy, there are ten that I love.  I write for the exhilaration of typing those first few words, and the bittersweet satisfaction of "the end".  I write to walk that thin line between reality and imagination.  I write for the moments when my characters feel such emotion that I'm crying, too.  I write to create something out of nothing.  I write for that moment when someone reads what I wrote, looks up at me, and says "Wow."  I keep writing because of my passion for stories and imagination, and my tendency to daydream, and night-dream, and any dream in between.  I keep writing because my stories keep bouncing around in my head, and my characters keep nudging me to get their stories into the world.  Any writer can relate to the utter magic of writing, and in the end, I think we all write for the same reason--because if we didn't write, we couldn't go on. 


Thank you Annie for visiting and we wish you luck with your blog and writing! You can talk to Annie at her blog, The Epic, the Awesome, and the Random

Have a happy Friday and keep writing, because if we didn't write, we couldn't go on. I couldn't have said it better myself, Annie!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

6 Questions to Befuddle the Writing Mind #3

Yeah, there is no hope of ever fitting this into the blogging schedule, but rest assured I'll (most likely) write more. Anyways, back to World Building.

World Building Part Two

Yes, yes we know you're characters are ever so important, but have you ever given thought to the world they live in? Hopefully, because without a world to live on, most characters would not exist. Welcome back to 6 Questions on World Building. 

Since I know we'll all be writing in different types of places (reality or fantasy) just adapt the question to fit your story's needs. Have fun and happy writing!

1. Where does your character live? What planet, land, nation, country, city, address, room, house, etc.? Be as specific as you can. 

2. Let's talk about politics. (Our favorite subject, I know.) Who is in control in your world? And don't just say that everyone does as they please. No, it doesn't work that way. What governing power is in charge? How does the government work? 

3. What sorts of religions or faiths are in your world? Do they believe in spirits, gods, goddesses, etc.? 

4. Name three superstitions that people in the area of your MC have. How did each come about? Are these superstitions reasonable? If not, what can be done to stop people from believing in them? 

5. How are the young treated? How are the old? How are the teenagers? Is different work assigned to each? Are the young raised by only their parents or the entire community? Are the elders thrown out at some point?

6. Are the people living in your MC's area happy about where an how they live? Name three things they generally want changed. (I know there will be one or two people who are exceptions, but we're just going with the general views at the moment.) Please do not tell me they are completely happy with it, nothing is perfect, even in fantasy. They will want something changed.

Thank you again for reading and keep writing!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

6 Questions to Befuddle the Writing Mind #2

Hey, did you guys know there is a little button reading "Publish" that you have to press in order for a post to be published? Well, I apparently don't. I had this post typed up for Monday and I quit out before posting. Whoops. Well, I hope you can forgive me....


Here are the next six questions to help you develop your story and characters and whatever else we are targeting on that day. Answer them, blog them, comment your answers, save them in a word doc, whatever you deem worthy to do!

World Building Part 1

I know last week was some character building but this week we'll start at the beginning. World-building. We've had posts on why this is important before, but the bottom line is that you have to know where your story is happening. A story in Antarctica is not going to turn out the same way as a story in the Sahara. 

Since I know we'll all be writing in different types of places (reality or fantasy) just adapt the question to fit your story's needs. Have fun and happy writing!

1. Opening Scene. Where is these place? What does it look like? In the very first paragraph of your story, what is the setting? Describe it. Names of places, of plants surrounding them, what sorts of things do they see? 

2. Quick, make a list of all of the different places that are visited in your book. And I mean all of them. You can be as vague (New York City) or as specific (the bed in Camille's bedroom) as you want, but make sure you get all of them.

3. Using the list from the previous question, attach a word or phrase to each setting that best describes it. It can be something about the way it looks, the way it feels, what happened there, or whatever else you want. It just needs to be what you feel is the most important thing to remember about that place. 

4. What is the most meaningful setting in your story? Why is it the most meaningful? What happens there that makes it so? Write a quick description of it. 

5. Explain four ways that your setting has affected your story. Notice I started with "explain". 

6. Why is your story happening where it is? Why not the Alps or Dreamland? What makes this place so important that you are basing your story there? 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Keep Pushing Through

I'm on Spring Break with nothing to do, so I'm posting on a random writing topic.

How To Keep Pushing Through:

I know, it's hard to keep writing. You've passed the happy, new-idea phase and you're into the oh-my-goodness-where-am-I-taking-this? phase. If you're anything like me, you've got the very basic plot down, but you're unsure of the actual details and problems that fit in between. I've hit this problem in my own writing, so I figured I'd improvise this and then follow my own advice.

To start off, DON'T LEAVE YOUR WRITING BECAUSE YOU'RE FRUSTRATED. Even after just a few days, you'll look at what you wrote and think, "what the freak was I thinking? This is rubbish." Then you'll put it in the recycle bin and start over. You'll get to the same point, do the same thing, and you'll think all over again that your writing isn't worth the brain cells you put into it. This is a very nasty circle-spiral of useless writing time. Stay true to your writing and improvise a temporary scene to get you through the rough patch, and change it to suit your needs during editing. Of course, your temporary scene has to be similar to what you want there, because your story is delicate. If you put that Mary Sue wants to fight an evil king, and you've hit a rough patch when she's meeting him the 1st time, you cannot make this meeting end with King Evil giving her a bunny and her promising a rainbow. Don't forget your action-reaction idea.

Another point is DON'T GO BACK AND EDIT. If you go back and edit what you've already written, then you'll end up finding so many mistakes, you'll be tempted to trash it. And you know where that'll end up. So just push through that stubborn scene and resist the temptation to edit. You have plenty of time for editing when it's all said and done.

Third point: SEEK INSPIRATION. Grab it by its bunny-rabbit ears and don't let go. Listen to new music, convince your parents to take you to the park (or drive there, if you have your license. I don't happen to have mine yet, so I have to find other transportation). Do some research on topics you enjoy: look up religion on Google, go to your library and find books on ancient civilizations. Just pick something and read up on it. Or watch documentaries, which I personally love to do. I once watched a very informative show on the history of playing cards. Just... do something worth doing.

Try a RANDOM GENERATOR. Like or tp:// These are fun and can spark an idea. You won't use all of the suggestions they give you - some are so blatantly against your story that you'll have to find something else. But they're pretty reliable.

Ummm... ADD SOMETHING NEW. If you don't consider this part of inspiration. Write a dragon into your scene! Have your MC join a pirate gang! Let your MC's sister get kidnapped! Just add something worthwhile or odd into your scene and change your plot to accomadate it. If you hate it, you can come back to it in editing.

That's all I've got. I'm sorry, I feel this kind of advice has been parroted out to writers by pretty much everyone. "Don't give up!" "Find inspiration!" It is good advice, though. And all the labrynth of my mind can come up with at the moment. 

Have a blessed day and keep writing! <3

Monday, April 2, 2012

6 Questions to Befuddle the Writing Mind #1

Here are six questions to help you develop your story and characters and whatever else we are targeting on that day. I don't care what you do with them: just answer them, blog them, comment your answers, etc. They're here to help you with your writing and your story.

1. What is the name of your main character? I mean the full name and the various nicknames. All of the names that characters has, is and will go by.

2. What is the age of your main character? The physical age, the mental age, if age has been affected in any way. 

3. If your MC could change one aspect of the way they looked, what would it be and why? And I don't mean "her hair because its ugly". What led her/him to dislike it so much? 

4. If your MC could change one thing about the way they thought, what would it be and why? What led them to dislike it so much? (New hobby, less of an emotion, etc.)

5. What are three words that state exactly what your MC is? Think about this. Don't just write the first three words that come to mind. 

6. What is special about your MC? These aren't just magical powers and wealth. What sets them apart from others? What made them so unique that you wrote their story instead of a billion different others?

I'd love to see what you have to say. If you want to post your questions or a link to the blogpost, that'd be great! Check back Monday for the next six questions!

Good luck and keep writing!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...