Thursday, August 1, 2013

An interview with author/editor, Colleen M. Albert!!!

Let's get to know author and editor of The Grammar Babe, Colleen M. Albert!

K.N. Lee: Good afternoon, Colleen. We are thrilled to learn a little about the author of Chasing Destiny, the short story you wrote in response to the writing challenge! Tell us, where are you from?

Colleen: I was born in the obscurely known northern city of Oswego—it's north of Syracuse in upstate New York and sits right on the freeze-your-tush-off shore of Lake Ontario, one of the United State's five great lakes. Here's what we're known for: Sunsets, Al Roker (who went to college at Suny Oswego),  our haunted Fort Ontario (featured on Ghost Hunters), and for supposedly being in the Guinness Book of World Records at one time for having the most bars and churches per capita. Yeah, baby!

K.N. Lee: What inspired you to write your first book?

Colleen: My driving passions to read, write, and edit. Other than family, they are the activities that make me the happiest and calmest. After my son was born, I went through a huge transition from corporate America to this creative La La Land I now inhabit—and love. These characters just came knocking on my brain one day, demanding I let them out. I started writing the story from Isabella's point of view, but Grey quickly stole the show and said, "Nope, buddies. This is my story, first. You girls can have books two and three." And that's how my novel bloomed into a trilogy! In 2012, my novel went from a YA romance to a YA urban fantasy/romance when Grey decided to shoot fire from her hands. Suffice it to say, I now need to have a come to Jesus plotting session with myself before moving forward, fixing plot holes, and crossing the finish line.

K.N. Lee: That is incredible! Don't you just love how our characters start bossing us around? Do you write full-time or part-time? How do you balance your writing life with your family/work life?

Colleen: Ooh, this is a great question, and I'll let you know when I accomplish it! I write part time, edit for other authors full time, and am a stay at home mother full time. Tricky, huh? I've always had an innate ability to "get 'er done" and make things happen. I think it's because I know the universe won't let me fail. That, and I have an amazing support network in place, including a very hands-on husband, my mother who lives in town, and the world's best nanny, Christina. 

K.N. Lee: What jobs have you held that influence your stories?

Colleen: I came from a middle-class working background and had to work my way through high school and college so that I could pay for my college degree. So, while my earlier jobs (babysitter, Burger King, bank teller) may not influence my stories, per se, they have influenced my personal growth, integrity, and work ethic, and I try to instill this into my characters as well, to give them depth and dimension. My later professional experience (in affluent banking, writing, editing, technology, and marketing) may come into play in future novels, like my other WIP about a dead husband who comes back to help his wife, and daughter, move on and heal. I think the biggest career influence on my writing is, honestly, my professional editing. I learn so much from my writers about what works and what doesn't, and can clearly see why when I'm editing their books. Plus, I edit for some pretty fantastic women who are strong writers and creative souls, so how could that not inspire and influence me?
K.N. Lee: Ohhhh! I want to know more about that WIP! Very interesting!
Do you have a specific writing style?

Colleen: I've been told it's kind of subtle, but beautiful. And with my YA novel, people have told me I have really nailed the YA voice and that my writing is snarky and spot on. But, if you read my short stories, you'll see there's a quiet darkness to them as well. I tend to have tragedy in all of my stories, no matter how I intend for them to pan out. Tragedy and love. After all, isn't that what life is all about?
K.N. Lee: Just from reading your writing challenge submission, we can tell you have the perfect voice for YA!
How did you come up with the title for your YA novel?

Colleen: I'm going to sound like a total fruit loop here, but it came to me while I was laying down trying to fall asleep last fall. I'm a total insomniac and I was in a state of lucid dreaming when it came to me. (I believe there was a little divine intervention going on, too.) Before this, the working title (aka, the file name) for my novel was Tres Amigas, because Grey simply hadn't shared her title with me at that point. But when I decided to take my novel into the urban fantasy direction, it was as if the universe said very clearly: here's the title, here are their powers, and here are the worlds they protect. I knew with certainty that they fit each of my characters like a glove. So, book one of The Guardian Trilogy is called The Guardian of Fire: the Neverworld, not to be confused with your Netherworld, I promise! Good minds think alike, or something like that.
K.N. Lee: I love it! Those are some amazing titles. I already want to pre-order.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

Colleen: For me, even though there is this whole "save the world against evil" plot line happening, at the end of the day, the story is still about three teenage girls who are best friends and rely heavily on each other. So the story is really about self-acceptance, the strength of our female relationships, and coming to terms with grief.
K.N. Lee: How much of the book is realistic?

Colleen: Okay, so I know this sounds crazy because of the whole dimension building I do in the book, and  the fire-shooting I mentioned earlier, but I'd still say about 60% of it is realistic. My story is an urban fantasy, which means part of it is set in a modern day city and time (in my case, Virginia Beach, Virginia). But the girls are still human (with bonus abilities) and they still have "normal issues" to deal with that all teenagers face: grief from the loss of a loved one, learning to cope and fit in, learning how and when to trust others, falling in love for the first time, body issues, and, oh yeah, let's not forget the demands of high school and the pressure to get into college!
K.N. Lee: I cannot wait to meet these girls.
Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

Colleen: I'd say some of them are, without even having realized it. When I was a teenager, I always felt over weight (I wasn't) and I never seemed to fit in with a particular crowd. I wasn't a jock, a cheerleader, a nerd, a goth, a thespian, or an outcast. I was friends with everyone, yet I felt on the outside a lot. So I think self-acceptance is something I wish I'd realized sooner. But, I think it's all a part of growing up and finding ourselves. There was just an inner confidence—and, to some degree, self-worth—that I lacked when I was younger (like my character Grey). Also, I am fiercely protective of human rights and equality. So, I gave my characters some equality issues to overcome that are close to my heart, because I have loved ones who have lived through these struggles themselves.

K.N. Lee: What books have most influenced your life?

Colleen: Such a loaded question! One of my favorite books ever is The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton. It ignited my love for YA and coming-of-age fiction. It's full of class issues, poverty, familial relationships and struggles, love, death, and growth. Perfection. My favorite poem is in this book as well, Nothing Gold Can Stay, by Robert Frost. Anyone familiar with the poem knows that it's bittersweet, as the title suggests. I think that tender yet tragic line is one I continually try to skate in my writing. I have also been influenced from works by Judy Blume, Madeline L'Engle, V.C. Andrews, Bertice Small, Jane Austen, Toni Morrison, W. Summerset Maughm, Haven Kimmel, Albert Einstein, Helen Keller, Jes Young, Melissa Foster, and Richard Bach. That said, I'm influenced everyday by new and beautiful literature that continues to shape my life and worldview. It's why I love reading so much, and what I hope to give back as a writer: inspiration, hope, imagination, redemption, love.
K.N. Lee:
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?

Colleen: The beauty of being an editor is that I get to chose whom I work with, and as I mentioned before, I tend to surround myself with strong, creative, and smart women. So, to some degree, all of my authors have taught me something, and I know I could go to them in a heartbeat for help, wisdom, encouragement, and direction. I think Melissa Foster has become my biggest mentor and influence though—I swear, that woman is amazing, as many writers can attest. She embodies the spirit of giving back, being kind, working hard, using her intelligence, and flexing her creativity. Even though she's an International bestselling author—who writes a lot, I might add!—she also owns and operates several businesses that support Indie writers. She's the full package and real deal; I feel so blessed that our paths have crossed and I get the chance to learn from her along my journey.
K.N. Lee: That is remarkable. Shout outs to Melissa Foster! We'll have to get her on here sometime! 
What book are you reading now?

Colleen: As an editor, I get to read a lot—seriously, it's the best job in the world! Right now, I am reading a few books: Sisters in Bloom, by Melissa Foster; Siren Suicides, by Ksenia Anske; and The Angel Therapy Handbook, by Doreen Virtue (I didn't get to edit this one!). I'm also starting The Last Oracle, by Delia Colvin, this weekend. Life is good!

K.N. Lee: Are there any new authors who have grasped your interest?

Colleen: A ton! The writing community is thriving with fun, new authors. Being a part of the Indie community, I get to witness new authors as they're born and begin to flourish. Can you imagine walking alongside the likes of J.K. Rowling or Stephen King while they were making it in the writing world? That's how I feel every day when I discover a great new author—like yourself! Congrats on your new book, The Chronicles of Koa, by the way. See what I mean? I cannot name all the amazing writers who have caught my eye, but particularly, a few are: Delia Colvin, Ksenia Anske, Dee C. May, Leigh Ann Kopans, Dylan J. Morgan, J.B. Hickman, A.G. Henley, Jes Young, L.M. Augustine, Beth Michele, Amalie Jahn, and, with all sincerity, yourself! I cannot wait for my editing schedule to slow so I can devour the rest of Koa! *bites nails*
K.N. Lee: *blushes* Why thank you for the mention of my book, The Chronicles of Koa! You're so right. The writing community is thriving, and it is a pleasure to get a chance to sit down and interview amazing people such as yourself! I'm also glad that you mentioned the stunningly talented, Ksenia Anske! It was such a blast interviewing her.
What are your current projects?

Colleen: Writing has been pretty slow right now because of my intensive editing schedule—which, truly, I would not change for anything in the world. I know my time will come as a writer when it's meant to, so I write when I can and know it will all come together eventually. In the mean time, I continue to write short stories and flash fiction whenever I can (a few are posted on my Web site for readers). My WIP novels are The Guardian Trilogy and my yet-to-be-named adult fiction book that I mentioned earlier (my file name is The Haunted, but that won't be the title!). I also have a completed children's picture book that I'm starting to shop around. My other projects are all editing based: I'm currently finishing the Siren Suicides trilogy, by Ksenia Anske; Sisters in Bloom (Snow Sisters series), Where Petals Fall, and Treat Braden (Book one of The Bradens series), all by Melissa Foster; The Last Oracle, by Delia Colvin, and Liveon, by Stacy Eaton.
K.N. Lee: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.

Colleen: Just one? I'd say my guardian angels. I won't go off on a tangent here, but guardian angels are messengers from God. So, I always feel God's love and support through the angels that I know surround me. I would not be where I am today—with the knowledge, love, success, and rich life that God's blessed me with—without the help of my angels.

K.N. Lee: Do you see writing as a career?

Colleen: Absolutely! Once you go writer, you never go back...isn't that the saying? While writing isn't my full time job at the moment, the writing profession as a whole is my career—I am immersed in it daily with my editing work, writing my WIP, and through all of the amazing author friends I have made. While it was good to me (and an invaluable learning experience), I always say I will never go back to corporate America after getting a taste of the writer's life!
K.N. Lee: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?

Colleen: Yep, so thank God I cooled my heels and got feedback from a published author before sending my baby out into this big, bad world! Through a charitable fundraiser by author Brenda Novak (for diabetes research), I won a critique of my first fifty pages by the amazingly talented YA writer, Lea Nolan, author of Conjure. It was the single harshest, yet most honest and valuable advice I could ever have gotten before self-publishing. I am so grateful for the thoughtfulness, effort, and time she dedicated to helping a new writer. As a result, it's definitely going to change the structure and starting point for my novel.
K.N. Lee: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

Colleen: I come from a long line of natural writers and storytellers, so I think the apple just fell close to the tree. My mother raised me to have a love and appreciation for reading. No matter how little money we had, we always had full bookshelves. From my love of reading grew a passion for writing. I started with writing in a journal (which I still do today), then creating a family newsletter as a way to make fun of my older brother (sorry!), and then moved on to really bad poetry in high school. I always knew I was a "good" writer, but during college, I grew my wings and took that first leap—and I haven't looked back since.
K.N. Lee: I must say, I'm glad you grew your wings and took that first leap! I see big things for you!
Can you share a little of your current work with us?

Colleen: Sure, I'd love to. Bear in mind that this is from my shitty first draft and, with the upcoming revisions, I'm not sure if this scene will even make the book or end up in my "edited out" file. This scene takes place at the police station while the girls are waiting for their parents to come pick them up. It gives a fun taste of both voice and a hint of what's to come. Because I like a challenge, the book is written in first person POV, with each chapter dedicated to a different girl, rotating back and forth. This is from one of Grey's chapters.
“Chelsea, we have to cooperate. I’m not going to juvie over this, it was an accident,” I remind everyone. “I’m sure Chelsea’s father will be happy to pay for whatever damages we caused at the bowling alley. And restitution if anyone was accidentally injured. In the accident.” I look at Officer Harper to see if he's following me. His lips are straight and he furrows his brow as he watches me. Clearly, we are not on the same page.    
“What? What do you mean ‘Chelsea’s father will pay’?” Chelsea sputters as she shoots me the evil eye. “It wasn't Chelsea's idea to take the tractor. Chelsea wasn’t the one who stole the beer. Chelsea didn't start the goddamn—”
“Shut up, you two!” It was Isa's turn to calm us down, and we needed it. I was just trying to appease Officer Friendly. I didn’t mean for Chelsea to go and get her panties in a wad.
“She’s right. Let’s just wait for Mr. Britton to get here. We’re not saying another word until he does,” I say, with more bravado than I actually feel. I'm getting really warm and my fingers are starting to tingle again. I feel the kind of sick you get at the pool when you've been in the sun too long on an empty stomach. The back of my neck feels as if it's on fire. Isabella gently rubs it with the hand she casually draped over the back of my chair when Chelsea began yelling at me. I silently pray that I can keep my nerves under control so that we don't have another accident like we did at the bowling alley last night.
I’m not sure if Officer Backwoods knows quite what to make of us. He sighs and pushes his rusted chair back, its metal screeching across the putrid-brown, linoleum tiles. Their color reminds me that I'm about to get sick. 
“Clearly, you don’t understand the magnitude of your actions, girls,” Officer Harper says.
“Girls? Who are you calling a girl?” Chelsea scoffs. “I’m eighteen. I’m a woman now.”
“Even better. No juvie for you. If Daddy-Dearest doesn’t buy your way out of this, you get the slammer—girl.” He looks each one of us in the eyes before he turns on his squishy-heeled rubber soles and leaves us alone to sweat it out in our small, stinky room.
Before I know what's happening, I can feel the burning in my fingers intensify to an unbearable level again, making me feel like I'm on fire from the inside.
“Ouch!” Isabella yelps, as she shoves my hand off her thigh. I'm so nervous I didn't even realize that I had a death-grip on her leg. “Grey, take a deep breath and look at me. Grey!” She jerks my head so that I face her. She places her hands on both of my shoulders and starts softly humming our favorite song, trying desperately to settle my nerves and ground me—to clear the pain and confusion from my eyes, which have started to cloud over.
But I can't focus on her, yet. I'm still looking down at the charred impressions that my fingertips just left; I can see her dark crimson blood mix with the tiny blue and black fibers of her skinny jeans.

K.N. Lee: Once again, you've stunned us with your creativity and sharp writing!
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

Colleen: Oh, you know, just the basics. Like, um, following the advice I give my authors every day! It's so different when it's your writing and you're so close to it. Intuitively, I know what works and what does not; but, sometimes, it's hard to apply to my own writing. I have to be careful of tense issues, particularly with the flash back style I have in some parts of The Guardian of Fire (which, is one of the reasons I am going to change it and start elsewhere in the story). And every writer has crutch words. I like to throw "just" in there a lot. It's kind of how other writers may over use "really" or "very," even though they're not needed about 99% of the time! I always go back and edit it out, but it often sneak into my first drafts.
K.N. Lee: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?

Colleen: I honestly can't say I have one favorite, but if I had to pick an all time, life-long favorite, I'd have to say Diane Chamberlain. Her books are about every day people and the complications they create in their lives, sometimes, with just one seemingly small act of stupidity, recklessness, or misfortune that snowballs. What I always love about Diane's books is that she throws in these amazing plot twists and turns that just—wham! They grab your heart, make you gasp at the sheer genius in the way she executed it, and how it leaves her characters so flawed and damaged, but lovable. The more flawed and dimensional a character is, the more my heart aches and cheers. I also swoon over the poetic license authors, like Diane, take with their word choices; I love when one surprises me and I think, "Wow! I never would have described it like that." For example, a sunset has been described a bazillion different ways in literature, so you think, how can anyone say it in a new, different, and engaging way? But that's what great literature is all about. When an author can make me hold my breath from the beauty they create by stringing unexpected words together, it's magic. I also tend to gravitate to strong female leads, snarky humor, and—from time to time—an epic, yet tragic, love story.
K.N. Lee: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?

Colleen: Not yet. I tend to write what I know. But, I'm always up for doing research abroad!
K.N. Lee: Who designed the covers?
Colleen: Sigh, I'm not at that point yet. But, man, do I have strong aesthetic opinions and reactions, so in the (slightly modified) famous words of Sheryl Crow, I'll be asking, "Are you strong enough to be my...graphic artist?" I'm also blessed to be friends with the owner of Shadeflower Press, and she designs beautiful covers and does an amazing job with book layout and formatting. So, I'm sure we'll be working together in the future.
K.N. Lee: What was the hardest part of writing your book?

Colleen: The plot, by far. No, seriously. I can write my ass off all day. But a good writer doesn't equal a good book. A good book requires a good plot and strong characters. I've got the strong characters, but I'm still hashing the plot out. I tend to be a panster when it comes to my writing, unlike most everything else in my life!
K.N. Lee: So true! One needs a good plot! Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?

Colleen: I learned how much I love inflicting pain on my characters—though I'm not sure exactly what this says about me (smiles). Seriously, I think I just learned how fun it is to make things happen in books, and to have such creative license. The fun part is the writing after all. Not the business side of it: formatting, publishing, reviews, marketing, blah, blah, blah. All necessary, for sure. But the romance, for me, is in the writing. I love losing myself for hours, just creating—creating scenes and dialogue and motivation. You learn a lot about yourself this way, too!
K.N. Lee: Do you have any advice for other writers?

Colleen: To read and write every single day. The more you read, the more you grow. The more you grow, the better you feel. So, let's write books for every...oh, wait. That's beans.
K.N. Lee: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Colleen: I have readers? *dies* Thank you. Be patient. I love you, man.
K.N. Lee: Of course you do! The reception of your short story, Chasing Destiny had the highest views on this site! Believe it! What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?

Colleen: With being a stay at home mother, the challenge is definitely making the time to write and not feeling guilty about it. It's so hard sometimes to justify wanting to sit in a room, alone, fancifully making up words that, next to your kid's needs, don't really seem that important in the grand scheme of thing. But it is. It's your very soul needing to express itself. And your children need to see you passionate about something other than them. So, even if writing isn't your thing, mothers, make time for whatever it is that sparks your soul.

K.N. Lee: What do you think about e-publishing versus traditional publishing? 

Colleen: I'm all for it. If it means getting your books in the hands of readers, awesome. Isn't that why most people write? I think the decision is a highly subjective and individual one, but I don't believe there's a one-size-fits-all answer either. I have friends who have gone in both directions and are equally as happy. Would I love a million dollar book deal? Sure. Would I hold my breath waiting years for one instead of just writing and publishing my books in the meantime so that people can actually read them? No way. I think it's a great way to build a fan base and get noticed, too. Plus, it gives the author all the control. And, I kinda like that. 

K.N. Lee: Do you have an agent or publisher? How did you go about finding one?

Colleen: Not yet. For my fiction novels, I'll likely go Indie for the reasons I mentioned above. But I am also currently shopping a children's picture book to agents and publishers, and I do want to go the traditional route with that. I use Query Tracker, Twitter, and the Children's Writers & Illustrators Market book to find agents and publishers I'm interested in and who will be a great fit for me and my book.

K.N. Lee: Thanks for those suggestions! I'm sure it'll be useful to our readers! 
If you could live anywhere, where would it be?

Colleen: I'm kinda partial to where I live now, which is in North Carolina. It's warm in the winter, but not too warm in the summer. You can actually exercise outside twelve months of the year! We have a good economy and schools. And I'm close to amazing North and South Carolina beaches and the mountains! What's not to love? Now, there are hundreds and hundreds of places I'd like to travel...

K.N. Lee: Yes! Hooray for North Carolina! 
If you could have any super power, what would it be?

Colleen: Is time traveling a super power? I'd like to be able to bend time so I can transport myself to any point in time I desire. I think it'd be so fascinating to immerse myself in other cultures at other points in history and just observe. If not, I'd totally want to be She-Ra, the Princess of Power! 

K.N. Lee: Thank you for such an amazing interview, Colleen. It has been such fun! Good luck with everything!

For More on The Grammar Babe, Colleen M. Albert: