WEEK TWO PRIZE: The first 2 books in Dom Testa's Galahad series, The Comet's Curse and the Web of Titan and a copy of Diane Sieg's book, Stop Living Life Like and Emergency. To enter, leave a comment (be sure to include your email). Winners will be chosen on Tuesday. For another entry, visit the NCW Facebook page Friday through Tuesday and answer the Friday Question of the Week.
For this week's Countdown to the Conference Post, I want to introduce you to the two keynote speakers for the Northern Colorado Writers Conference and share my brief email interview with each of them.
The opening keynote speaker on Friday night is award-winning author, speaker, and broadcaster, Dom Testa. For the past decade he has captained The Dom and Jane Show on Denver's Mix100, and with an audience of nearly a quarter-million people per day, he's become an extended family member to generations of listeners.
Q: Can you tell me about your publishing journey?
After working with students for years, hosting writing workshops and assemblies, I knew that the time had come to write something for that audience. The concept that most appealed to me included a setting where teenage characters would be forced to rely on themselves and each other without any assistance from adults. With that in mind, the Galahad series was born.
The first book, The Comet's Curse, took a considerable amount of time to finish, because (like many writers) I often put it aside, sometimes for months at a time. But the moment arrives when an author is like a mother going into labor: the book has to come out, whether you're ready or not. Because I wanted the books to act as a calling card for my work with schools, I chose to not take the traditional publishing route at first. I didn't want to wait on an agent, then wait on acceptance by a publisher, then wait another year or two for the books to hit shelves. So I chose to create my own publishing company and do it all myself.
When The Comet's Curse arrived in January, 2005, I was ecstatic. When it won an EVVY Award for Best Young Adult Book, I was thrilled. And when the call came from Writer's Digest magazine, announcing that the book had won their International Grand Prize, I was in shock. In fairly rapid succession I wrote and published two more books in the series, The Web of Titan, and The Cassini Code.
But the wear and tear of writing/publishing/promoting/selling/etc was a drain. I felt that the series was strong enough to sell to New York. So, at the suggestion of my friend, Dr. Judith Briles, I contacted an agent in Connecticut, Jacques de Spoelbergh. He urged me to send the books to Tom Doherty at Tor Books. I did, and five days later Kathleen Doherty, the publisher of Tor's young adult division, called with a six-book offer.
The fun has only begun!
Q: What inspired you to start your Big Brain Foundation and how does it relate to your books?
The Big Brain Club was born from the frustration I've felt watching young people throw away their future by dumbing down in order to fit in with the 'cool' crowd. Teenagers, especially middle school students, are at a crucial stage where the decisions they make have enormous consequences on the rest of their lives, and far too many of them were succumbing to the pressure to dumb down. My goal is to show them that they don't have to choose between being cool and using their brains; they can do both.
The Big Brain Club began very simply, as a brief portion of my writing assemblies at schools, along with a basic, utilitarian web site. But over the years the feedback has been enthusiastic, to the point where today we're a full-fledged non-profit foundation, with a board of directors and a terrific team putting our programs together. In February of this year we launched our pilot program at Preston Middle School in Fort Collins, CO. Close to one hundred of their students became published authors when we produced a book of their creative writing. Plus, we donated three iPads to the school's media center for help with research and creative writing programs.
There's no direct relationship between The Big Brain Club and my Galahad series of books. However, I do like to point out that the characters in my young adult books clearly represent the spirit of the foundation. They're not perfect, but they embrace their love of learning, and they understand that Smart Is Cool.
Q: What is one piece of advice you have for writers just starting out?
This is always a tough one. I've seen so much advice over the years, most of it practical and useful, some of it tripe. In the long run, every author is different, and every path will be different. The constants, however, seem to include writing out of passion, keeping your butt in the seat, and absorbing as much information about the BUSINESS of writing as you can.
In a way, I think that publishing success is almost like love. It does seem to come when you're not looking for it. It's possible that we subconsciously inject a dose of desperation into our work when we're dying to be published, but when we just relax and let the work flow, good things happen.
But the most important advice I would give is to create gravity for your work. By that I mean a new/young author should not only concentrate on their words, but on what they're doing to draw people in to their work. For me, it included years of school visits, as well as a cause that fired me up. My Big Brain Club has created gravity for my writing work; people hear about the foundation and its cause, and by extension are curious about the young adult fiction that I've written. New authors should always devote a portion of their planning on not just the words on the page, but on a story about THEM, too, one that draws interest from a very overstimulated world of readers.
Our closing keynote speaker will be Diane Sieg, a professional speaker, published author, certified yoga teacher, and life coach.
Q: Your keynote address is called Finding Your Voice. Have you ever experienced a time when you lost your voice? How did you get through it?
I have had many times in my life where I have lost my voice, when I wasn't standing up, showing up and speaking up in my most authentic way. I was going through a painful transition and developed chronic laryngitis for 6 months and I literally lost my voice when I realized I had lost my voice in many areas of my life. My writing took on a whole new meaning during that time. Very difficult, and very therapeutic. I completed a manuscript on Finding Your Voice in Work, Love and Money. That book, which I decided to shelve was my lifeline and I believe got me through it..
Q: What inspired you to write your book, STOP Living Life Like an Emergency?
After working for over 20 years in emergency rooms across the country, I recognized that so many people ended up there because of the choices they did or didn’t make. They ignored warning signs, denied serious symptoms, and made unconscious decisions. I wanted to help people get out of the emergency room of life, before they experienced trauma and tragedy.
Q: What advice do you have for writers who are just starting out on their writing journey?
Writing is an interesting journey, full of gut wrenching and blissful moments. It is not for the faint at heart. I think we have to write for ourselves, first. We have to be passionate about our topic before we can engage anyone else. And, the only way to write is to write. It may sound obvious, but on the days when nothing is coming, when distractions are calling, and resistance is running the show, we have to sit our butts in the chair and write anyway.
Did something Dom or Diane said resonate with you? Why? Leave your comment below for your chance to win this week's prize.