Welcome to the three hundred and sixty-ninth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with fantasy author Deborah Rae Cota. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Deborah. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Deborah: Hello to you, too! Born, raised and still reside in the sunny East Bay of California; 30 minutes east of San Francisco. I’ve been writing since I was 11; after my 5th grade teacher encouraged me to enter a school writing contest, and I won. Shortly after, she gave me a composition notebook, a BIC blue pen and told me to ‘write a little something every day’…I haven’t stopped and don’t plan to, ever. I still handwrite everything in those same composition notebooks with a BIC blue pen, too.
Morgen: I love that; that you started and haven’t stopped. I’ve been doing Story a Day May again this year and have decided that I don’t want to stop on 1st June so will keep going with a 5PM Fiction slot. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Deborah: Generally fantasy. I tried writing something more current, depicting a struggling young man in an unsavoury situation, but little-by-little it became more and more like a male-Cinderella story complete with glass Converse sneakers.
Morgen: What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Deborah: The Dante Chronicles, of which I’ve released two of my planned eight books so far, are both published under my own name, ‘Deborah Rae Cota’. Book I is titled THE KINDRED, and Book II is THE BROTHERHOOD.
Morgen: Strong titles. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Deborah: Many and I saved them all. I sent 428 letters to agents and publishing houses, and received positive responses. I was told that my writing ‘was sound’, my ideas were ‘interesting and intriguing’, but they just couldn’t afford to take on any more new clients. Not knowing if the market would improve because my crystal ball was on the fritz, I decided to independently publish.
Morgen: 428, wow. That’s 20 times more than me but then I’m rubbish at sending things out. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions?
Deborah: Unfortunately no, but I am always ready with my “win” speech!
Morgen: Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Deborah: After publishing my books myself, I’m a little up in the air about the need for an agent, especially with the abundance of independent publishing houses. Personally, I am thrilled by the control I have over my body of work. I don’t have an agent, and I question the direction I would be going in if I had one. The one benefit would be the placement of books in bookstores nationwide and less time on marketing; but with bookstores closing everywhere, don’t I benefit more by being available on the internet on my own terms?
Morgen: There are pros and cons of each direction but the one think that is apparent is that whichever route we choose (or is chosen for us, whether we get an agent and/or publisher) we still have to do a heck of a lot of marketing. Are your books available as eBooks? Were you involved in that process at all? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Deborah: Yes, they both are. I’m pretty computer savvy, so I handled all the formatting and structuring myself. I read both e-books and paper, and since picking up on the new e-book format, I have actually saved a little money. If I love the book in e-format, I buy a printed copy for my shelf. I don’t think I’ll ever give up on printed books. I love the smell and feel of them too much!
Morgen: I’ve heard other people say that; that if they have a book they love enough they’ll have both formats. I do love my Kindle Touch but having books around me so that definitely make sense. I’ve just mentioned how much marketing authors have to do, how much do you have to do for your books or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Deborah: The majority is me, but a small percentage comes from close friends and family who are fans and love the book as much as I do. They have made such an incredible effort to talk up my writing in their place of business, and to other friends and family. I have a great nest of really loving and dedicated friends and family.
Morgen: They do say “it’s not what you know but who you know”/ Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Deborah: My books are all part of a series spanning one year, so it’s hard singling out just one as a favorite. As for characters, I write like I read; which means I cast as I go along. I love all my characters equally, but I have to say I think my villains are my favorites.
Morgen: They probably get to have more fun. So presumably you had the main say in the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Deborah: Yes, definitely. I’m also a professional photographer, so I shot the photos for both books, and then built the look of the covers around them. CreateSpace.com offers a great many options to create your covers with and the parchment really suits my story. Since the books are based around holidays, I can change the character of the cover by using different background colors to suit the season. A book’s shelf appeal is crucial. I think it’s what readers are seduced with when choosing one. The cover should somehow smile, and then speak to the reader of what’s inside to draw them in.
Morgen: I love clever titles and if a cover is attractive it definitely helps me pick it up. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Deborah: Book III, “The Traveler” and Book IV, “The Coven”. The two are tied into each other so much that I need to write sections simultaneously to keep the continuity. There is another book, “Wednesday’s Child”, which I work on to break away from the series, and keep my mind and writing fresh.
Morgen: Which leads me nicely on to my next question… you said earlier with your writing that you “haven’t stopped”, do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Deborah: There was a short period of time when I was seriously ill two years ago, that I absolutely could not write. Other than that, I’ve kept my promise, and I do write a little something every day, even if it’s just a single line of dialogue. Writer’s block happens, it’s bound to. You have to learn to recognize it when it happens, accept it, and take a break for your art and sanity’s sake.
Morgen: Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Deborah: Definitely plot, but I stay flexible so if something strikes me that would be better and maybe thicken the plot; I go for it on the fly and just enjoy the ride.
Morgen: That’s what I love. We’ve touched on characters briefly, do you have a method for creating yours, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Deborah: Every one of my characters is drawn from someone I know, so when I write I’m writing from experience because I know them. Names are a funny thing. Sometimes they can be cathartic, if you use them to kill off a character, and other times you can honor the memory of someone you’ve lost, and then the writing takes on a life of its own. There are times when a name will just not come to me and I need to use a baby book to find a suitable name!
Morgen: A valuable tool. Often a name will just come to me but other times I change them part way because they don’t feel right (and go back and change up to then, of course). Do you write any non-fiction, poetry or short stories?
Deborah: I’ve always written short stories. The Dante Chronicles started as short stories that were forged together. I still write shorts now and then.
Morgen: Ah, my favourite format. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Deborah: The Kindred took a lot of editing; first, because of length and second, because I have a comma problem. I’m a former theatre major; it’s hard for me to give up my dramatic pauses. Now, it’s more consistent and tighter. Refined has never been in my vocabulary when it came to anything about me, but it does now in my writing.
Morgen: Do you have to do much research?
Deborah: Only for specific elements on certain characters. One of my characters graduated from MIT, and I knew there was a ring involved in the graduation ceremony, but I never knew the specifics (type of metal, who gets one, etc.) I found the info online and called the campus historian at MIT for confirmation.
Currently, I am studying tattooing and have spoken extensively with an experienced artist. His knowledge is helping me with my main villain.
Morgen: The joys of the internet, aren’t we lucky being writers now? What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Deborah: Never tried second person, but for a challenge I think I would like to in the future.
Morgen: Oh do! It’s my favourite and still fairly rare so I’m an advocate of it and have a dedicated page on the blog here. So you’ve used first or third?
Deborah: The Dante Chronicles is written in first person, which isn’t easy. My short stories were always third person / narratives, so the first draft of The Kindred was in narrative form. Then I read Jodi Picoult, “My Sister’s Keeper” in one day, and everything changed for me overnight. I wanted the first person emphasis because day-to-day family life is fast, and moment-to-moment. I felt the situations warranted the speed and intensity.
Morgen: Wow. I bet she’d love to know her book made that much of an impression. Obviously with first person the protagonist can’t know everything but as you say it’s more intense than third. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Deborah: There was a box full of journals and notebooks full of stories that were lost when my parents moved from my childhood home to another. I still remember some of them, and I would love to expound the ideas… but the original work is gone.
Morgen: What a shame. I have a rubbish memory (which NAWG Link magazine’s editor and author Steve Bowkett once told me off for saying ) so always have to have a notebook with me (in every dog-walking jacket) as I know I’ve lost some real gems because I’ve forgotten them but to have had them written down and lost them… What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Deborah: My favorite: Listening to people talk about The Kindred as they experience it for the first time is my absolute favorite. There are a couple of major twists that I play so the reader is experiencing the same feelings as the villain, and the surprise in my readers is amazing. Some challenge me and try to prove me wrong on the facts of the twist, but when they go back and re-read it for themselves, and then realize what was there all along, they are just beside themselves.
My least favorite: Love scenes. Not a big advocate of the “blouse-asunder-and- rippling-muscles” reads, so even the little bit of romance I wrote was laborious. A friend of mine suggested I write the romance from the standpoint of what I would like to experience. Made it easier, and from the response I’ve been getting, it works.
Morgen: I love reader feedback, especially direct emails. Reviews and comments on this blog are such a boost. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Deborah: Learn three things: never give up, learn to be flexible, and trust yourself. That last point is a doozy! You have to listen to your gut. If you have to petition the opinion of friends and relatives to decide what is best for you, then you shouldn’t be doing it. That goes for anything!
Morgen: I’d definitely agree with that. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Deborah: I’m a good cook, so I would definitely cook; probably Grilled Herb Crusted Chicken, Angel Hair Pasta with Julienned Zucchini and carrots, tossed with olive oil and garlic, and a Pretzel-crusted Margarita Pie for dessert. I would invite Eric Clapton, J.R.R. Tolkein and Harper Lee.
Morgen: If I make that four people can I go? Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Deborah: “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” ― Toni Morrison
Morgen: Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Deborah: In my website blog I try to cover more than just the day-to-day workings, and I encourage friends who are also aspiring writers to cross-blog with me. Recently, I wrote a piece for my best friend who was buried under work and couldn’t post to her own blog. Of course, I did tie it into writing in the end, but for the most part it was an inspirational piece to encourage people to get back up if they fall metaphorically.
Morgen: I’ve just started a blogging service (create and / or maintain) because I know how important it is to have an online presence (of course not just authors, I’m currently developing sites for an editor and an animal healer) and have had a couple of authors contact me to help with theirs because they’re too busy. Time does seem to be a factor for all of us (especially when what we really want to do is write!) What do you do when you’re not writing?
Deborah: Love to cook, so I am in the kitchen a lot. Recently bought a new house and I spend a lot of time fixing things up, and decorating. I am a huge San Jose Sharks and Oakland A’s fan, so sports are a big deal in my house. We recently rescued a Chihuahua-mix named Lulu, who apparently was neglected and never played with. I spend a lot of time teaching her to play and basic commands. Never had a problem keeping busy!
Morgen: Oh me too. I told my mum last September that I was quitting my job (and she was supportive as she knew I went to be late, although I didn’t tell her how late) and now that I have she asked me what am I going to do with my time. Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
The Elements of Style – William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White ISBN-13: 978-0205632640
The Elements of Editing – Arthur Plotnik ISBN-13: 978-0025977006
(These books are great for when you look at a sentence and say, “Wait…is that proper?” My editor gave them to me…She’s a Grammar Goddess!)
Morgen: :) Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Deborah: I am on Facebook, Goodreads, LinkedIn, Twitter, Amazon Authors Pages, and I hate to say it, but they are indispensable. The contacts that I have made alone, and in the short time I have been public, are worth probably 180+ hours of pounding pavement and cold calling people. It is, what it is, but it’s now, and if I want my voice to live on…
Morgen: Being online maybe so time consuming but as you say it’s far quicker than getting outside… and warmer. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Deborah: Writers will go on because there is no computer program that can convey the grace and emotion of language like we do. There will always be a need for writers, but I think our words will reach millions even faster and easier than they do now.
Morgen: And isn’t that great. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Deborah: Yes, Morgen…Welcome to the family!
Morgen: Oh, thank you very much. :*) Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Deborah: Can I send you a set of my books? I just want to say thank you for allowing me this opportunity in the only way I can, being so far away. If you lived closer, I’d invite you over for Arroz con Pollo, but…
Morgen: That’s very kind of you but it’s no trouble, honestly. If in the same country I’d love to come over – I love anything con Pollo (chicken) although I’m still drooling over the Angel Hair Pasta and Pretzel-crusted Margarita Pie. Thank you, Deborah.
I then invited Deborah to include an extract of her writing…
The Dantes are a family of Domesticated Demons who live just outside the gates of Hell, in an area called The Dominion, which they rule. They are the keepers and have vowed to protect humans from the evil that the Rogue (evil) demons cause. The following excerpt from THE KINDRED, is the opening of the monologue which introduces my villain, Corson. He is the cousin to the Royal family; the abandoned nephew of the Emperor of The Dominion.
“It is utterly unfathomable how a civilization that utilizes no more than a quarter of its entire brain mass on a regular basis, could possibly have survived for any great length of time.
Stupid human fools.
So much power within their grasp, and they waste it on deciding whether they should buy the matching purse to go with their shoes, which car makes them appear more attractive, or stressing over what banal television show to watch. Give any human something new and shiny, and they stop using even that last quarter of their brain because they are too busy cooing with glee.
Pathetically foul race.
They are nothing more than cattle.
A superfluous, hazardous by-product of an act of gratification.
Demons are no better. There are a select few that think and act with sheer brilliance, but most fall into one of three categories; the Resolved, the Romantics and the Refuse.
The Resolved are like me, decidedly firm in the belief that the commonality of a demon is evil, and we should be, now and forever, allowed to act as such; permitted to live freely with other life forms, never expected to conform, or redirect our intrinsic need to create havoc and mayhem. In fact, we should be respected and revered simply for the fact that we can, and will, create absolute chaos in the blink of an eye. Our potential should never be taken for granted.
We are entirely different from the Romantics. They run around helping everyone; human, animal and demon alike, and try desperately to deny their breeding, while being considerate and compassionate in an attempt to conform to the human ways. They seek acceptance and assimilation from the surface dwellers after years and years of persecution and condemnation. They have a long journey ahead before that can transpire, but they are resolute in their dedication to the cause. What the Romantics do not realize is how repudiate humans can be to difference. Their history speaks of years and years of revolt against it. Humans have their own demons that, I must admit, are uglier than us.”
Deborah Rae Cota ventured into many arenas seeking a home. After promising a former teacher to write something every day, pen and paper (along with her trusty camera) have always been a part of her daily routine. When Deborah isn’t writing, she’s cooking and creating new recipes for her family, or screaming in the stands of her favorite local sports teams where she lives, breathes & works in the beautiful, scenic Bay Area.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
If you go for the interview, it’s very simple; I send you a questionnaire (I have them for novelists, short story authors, children’s authors, non-fiction authors, and poets). You complete the questions, and I let you know when it’s going to go live. Before it does so, I add in comments as if we’re chatting, and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know.
Alternatively, if you’d like a free Q&A-only interview, I now have http://morgensauthorinterviews.wordpress.com on which I’ve rerun the original interviews posted here then posted new interviews which I then reblog here. These interviews are Q&A only, so I don’t add in my comments but they do get exposure on both sites.
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The full details of the new online writing groups, and their associated Facebook groups, are:
- Morgen’s Online Non-Fiction Writing Group (http://nonfictionwritinggroup.wordpress.com / http://www.facebook.com/groups/335526669896374
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We look forward to reading your comments.