Monday, April 27, 2015

Author Interview and Book Review: Shadow of Deception by Sophia L. Johnson

Hi Sophia and thanks so much for coming to my blog! I’m super excited to have you here and have a bazillion questions about you, your debut novel SHADOW OF DECEPTION, and the cause you’re donating all your first year’s profit to. Let’s start there. Please tell me a little bit more about Covenant House and why this particular charity is so near and dear to your heart?

Covenant House is the largest charity in the Americas dedicated to help homeless, abandoned, abused, trafficked, and exploited youth.  They have shelters across the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.  They have a wide array of programs designed to provide youth in need with a holistic approach to leaving the streets and achieving independence.

I used to teach at a career college in downtown Toronto and there was a Covenant House shelter nearby.  I saw many homeless kids needing care and guidance during the time.  In my teaching I also encountered some under-privileged students who were trying their best to make something out of their lives despite the difficult circumstances they were in.  I wanted to help and encourage them because as cliché as it sounds, they are the future of our society.  They can do great things just like any other kids.  They just need a little help along the way so they can get there.


I've had similar experiences with Teen Challenge in San Diego through my church, which is why I reached out to you. (Readers, check out more about Covenant House and donate here.) Did you decide to donate to Covenant House before or after you began writing Shadow of Deception?

I decided to use my book as a fund-raising tool for Covenant House after I began writing it.  To be honest, Shadow of Deception is the first full length novel I've ever written and I didn't even think it could make it this far until it was almost done.

Is SHADOW OF DECEPTION traditionally or self-published? How did this affect your decision to donate to Covenant House?

It is self-published and it didn't really affect my decision either way.  In fact, self-publishing made this happen much quicker and I have full control over the entire process.

Although the book is not traditionally published, I did go through a querying process before I decided to self-publish.  I queried over forty agents and had some positive feedback and a couple of manuscript requests but it only went as far as that.  I could have continued querying but I knew this battle could go on for a long time.  I just wanted my first book to be printed exactly how I like it to be and in a timely manner.

Where did the inspiration or ideas for SHADOW OF DECEPTION come from?

I remember having a spark of imagination in my head one night that I should create a character like Kazumi and that was the start of it all.  I didn't have anything else to build on or even a plot.  I just sat down and started typing.  I remember telling my husband that I was going to write a novel.  He looked at me from the corner of his eye and said, “Sure dear,” and went back to watching his show.

I love Kaz’s voice, especially as her memories return. Did she come to you as a fully formed character or did you have to take some time to develop her before you started writing?

To elaborate on the previous question, she did come to me as my primary inspiration.  I wanted her to drive the story and any changes I made were not to her as a character but how she influenced the plot.

It’s really hard for me to write romantic parts in YA novels. How are you at it? Did Kaz and Finn’s slowly budding relationship challenge you?

Actually not at all.  Kaz and Finn's relationship came quite easily to me.  I think this is because I've always daydreamed about awkward and weird romantic situations ever since I was a little girl.  (Oh I think that came out wrong.  By weird I didn't mean anything kinky.  Oh God no!)  I meant I like complications in a relationship.  Make them work for it.  It builds a stronger bond between the characters.  The hardest part of writing Kaz and Finn was trying to keep it grounded, realistic, and of course PG.  I did have to delete a couple of scenes that were too steamy.

Steamy scenes can happen in YA. I've read some that make me blush. But you seemed to figure out the perfect balance in this novel. Diversity is such a hot topic right now, and your novel fits the bill perfectly with Kaz’s Japanese ancestry highlighting the back story. Was that part of your original novel planning or did it come in later versions of the manuscript?

I love that you brought this up.  I knew the minute I concocted her in my mind that she'd be mixed race.  The only thing I had to decide on was what mixed with what.  I didn't want her to be Chinese because being Chinese myself, I think it'd be hitting too close to home.  But I needed a heritage that I have a good understanding of, hence Japanese.  (My parents lived in Japan when they were young and I took a couple years of Japanese myself.)

I've heard writing industry professionals talk about how often diversity takes over a book, but you really managed to make it part of who Kaz is rather than what she's all about. Bravo! What was your favorite part of SHADOW OF DECEPTION to write? Which was the most difficult?

I loved writing scenes where Kaz kicked ass.  I felt like she deserved those moments after what she had been through.  It was thrilling and satisfying for me.

The most difficult parts had to be scenes where I killed off my characters.  Needless to say a lot of tissues were used during the writing of those scenes.  I even scared my husband one time when he came home and saw my mascara-streaked face bawling over the laptop.

I actually think that the fighting scenes were some of the best parts of the novel, so I can see why you loved writing them! Is SHADOW OF DECEPTION considered speculative fiction or science fiction?

A very good question!  The simple answer is both.  But I labeled it science fiction based on the elements of the genetically advanced humans and the fact that more people can relate to this genre.  But in terms of the world setting, I think it's definitely speculative. 

Is there a sequel to SHADOW OF DECEPTION being written? If so, can you give us some hints?

Definitely!  I have two more books planned in this series.  The main plot of the second book has been drafted.  There will be deception of course but less shadows.  While the first book focused on the Sarcomeres, the second book will cast light on the Neuronics.  We will also explore Kaz and Finn's relationship a bit further and who knows, maybe I might throw in another love interest.  Dun-Dun-Duuun!!!!!

AH! A love triangle?!?! Now I'm going to be so impatient for book two! :0) What else do you have in the works now? Story ideas? A manuscript in progress? Any hints?

The next two novels will keep me busy for a while.  Not to mention I have a little munchkin at home who takes up a lot of my time as well. :)

I'm a mommy too, so I totally know where you are coming from. Are you a plotter or pantser? Or something in between?

I was definitely a pantser for Shadow of Deception.  I only had Kazumi created in my mind and I let the typing take me away.  But for the second book, I'll need to be a bit of a plotter in order to make the story consistent.

I'm a fellow panster, but I've come to appreciate plotting for certain parts and pieces of my more complex novels. What do you consider your writing strength(s)? Weakness(es)?

Oh this question takes me back to my job interview days.  My weakness is that I care too much. . .  just kidding.  I think I write good dialogues, hence am able to drive the story forward in a swift pace.  I'd like to think I have a good imagination as well which helps my world building and what not.  But all this is really for the readers to decide.  If they think my dialogues are crap then maybe being delusional is my weakness.  I do have one major weakness though, and that is grammar.  Hate the big G word.  English being my second language just makes things more challenging.  But I'm working on it. :)

Grammer is my nemesis too. We should start a meeting. haha. Now for some fun stuff! What’s your drink of choice when writing? Wine? Something stronger? Tea? Coffee?

Sorry to disappoint but a nice cup of tea is all I need.

I love tea sometimes too! If you could have lunch with any character, who would it be and where would you dine?

I'd choose Finn because come on, he's dreamy.  But also so I can smack him on the head. (You know why.  No spoilers!)  And as for the place to dine, I'd have to choose the underground village inside their Rocky Mountain headquarters.  I'd love to see that weather hologram in person and see if it's made to my standard.

Describe your dream office or library. Where would you build it? What would it look/smell/feel like while sitting in it? Any windows with views?

Oh there's so much I want for my office slash library.  First of all, it has to be very bright and airy.  Huge floor-to-ceiling bay windows overlooking a bustling city with a dash of greenery here and there.  It has to be high above ground so the noise and action of the city don't disrupt my thinking.  I need to be in complete silence when I write.  The interior will have to be modern and elegant, with a hint of femininity.  Columns of books will line the walls in glass shelves free of dust.  The light yet aromatic smell of fresh peonies will permeate the room, telling visitors that the occupant is classy, fresh, and well-educated.  Too much??

Never too much! What recent book have you read and fallen in love with?

I just finished the series, Inheritance Cycle, by Christopher Paolini.  A fantastic fantasy series about a dragon and its rider.  And Christopher wrote the first one, Eragon, back when he was only sixteen and his prose was already better than a lot of adult writers.    

Christopher Paolini is awesome. I didn't want that series to end! I remember being quite irritated when I finished it. What is one of your favorite classic books?

The Chrysalids.  Even though I didn't understand the majority of it when I read it in grade school, it left its mark in my mind—an urge to understand.  So I re-read it a while back and finally was able to appreciate its significance and beauty.

I've never read that. [Adds to Goodreads.]

Thanks again for coming on my blog today! I really appreciate it and am 100% behind you and your donation to Covenant House. And because of this, I’m buying two more electronic copies as giveaways to blog readers!

To enter the Ebook giveaway,  comment below and make sure you follow my blog. Tell us if you’ve read or would like to read SHADOW OF DECEPTION, feel free to ask Sophia a question, or just leave a fun comment. Please also put your email or twitter handle in the comment. I’ll draw and announce two names on my next post Monday, May 4th.

If this interview hasn’t convinced you to buy SHADOW OF DECEPTION yet, read on for the synopsis and my review!

[From Goodreads] A horrific plane crash kills all five hundred and forty-two passengers except one. Kazumi comes out of the wreckage physically unscathed but wiped of all memories. Her miraculous survival attracts the attention of the Sarcomeres, a secret society of genetically advanced humans. Their heightened physical abilities and high-tech gadgets are not the only things that fascinate Kazumi, Finnegan O'Riley, a fellow Sarc also gets her heart racing. When she discovers that she possesses the genetic potential to become a Sarcomere, she welcomes the chance to train with them in the hope that she would recover her memories.

Meanwhile, thirty years after the Great War that almost destroyed the world, a centuries-old nemesis of the Sarcomeres begins to stir in the dark. Just when Kazumi thinks she can help protect her new found home, past memories surface to threaten her new identity. She soon realizes that layers of deception run deep and everyone has a secret agenda, including herself. Who can she trust when she can't even trust herself? One wrong decision could bring forth consequences worse than death. Is Kazumi ready to face her destiny?


It’s the year 2153 and natural disasters have whittled the world down to only three damaged and recovering areas: America, Europe, and China. The main character awakens to death and destruction, and quickly passes back out. She opens her eyes again without memories and at the mercy of the hospital that cared for her as the sole survivor a horrible plane crash.

Within a month of recovery, the hospital turns her out into an unfamiliar city. A motherly nurse whisks her away to Colorado, where super humans thrive in an underground city. As she learns of her own fast healing and agile-moving body and uncanny gun fighting abilities, memories surface and she discovers her real name: Kazumi. Friends and enemies are formed, loyalties tested. An unexpected twist in the plot had me flailing in my in-laws living room. I won’t tell much more in order to not spoil the ending. Sophia is an expert at creating characters. She also has a way with pacing, creating a plot that ebbs and flows naturally. I was sucked in and finished reading in less than 3 days, to the detriment of my sleep, work, and family.

Like many self-published books I’ve read recently, SHADOW OF DECEPTION would have benefited from a few more rounds with critique partners and an editor to weed out grammer, spelling, filtering, and adverb issues. But the story was so engaging that I hardly noticed these flaws. This book solidified me as a Sophia L. Johnson fan, and I’d love to become her critique partner if only to get to read the second Kazumi Chronicle that much sooner.

Don't forget to subscribe and comment for your chance to win one of two copies of SHADOW OF DECEPTION! I'll see you all next week!


Monday, April 20, 2015

Ghostwriting Series #3: My Learning Curve

Hello and Good Monday everyone!

A quick, shameless plug before we dive into the meat of this post: my first ever blog interview after hooking my agent just went live over on Brenda Drake's blog, so please go check it out! It's me and my super secret Pitchwars mentor, now revealed, chatting about the experience.

Today is the final post of the ghostwriting series I've had going as my family moved cross country. If you haven't had a chance to see post 1 and post 2 with Marcia Layton Turner, be sure to check them out! She has great tips and experience to help you break into and succeed at this unique faucet of freelance work. I'm not nearly as accomplished in ghostwriting as Ms. Turner, but I thought I'd share a little bit about what I have learned as I meandered this part of my short freelancing career.


Unlike the sort of projects Marcia accomplished in 30 days, I started on much smaller projects. I wrote a fun bath book to accompany a bath toy, and got raving reviews from the client. (This was a small step that later lead me to writing picture books, but that's a topic for another post.) In addition to this project, I also took on half a dozen 25-page recipe eBooks. Most of the focus on these books was formatting, but it still required some research and creative writing before each recipe.I also did sporadic articles and short eBooks in between these, all with a clause in contract that these were ghostwriting and I would never have a public claim on them.

The first significant ghostwriting project came from a current client that had already tested me out on several of these smaller ghostwriting projects. She approached me after having hired and fired another ghostwriter, who from what I could understand, didn't have the same voice or conviction on the topic that she could tell I did. The client had a better grasp of what she wanted and felt confident in me (even though I didn't). But at that precise moment in my life, finances were tight and the big number offered was too tempting. I reasoned that the research was done, that I simply needed to rewrite it in her style and format all 40,000 words. That could be done in a month, no problem.

However, my lack of experience didn't prepare me for the depth that ghostwriting goes compared to other freelance writing I'd been doing. There were hours of additional research I needed to do, and it was harder for me to focus on the topic and write then cranking out some content articles. Thankfully, the client was gracious with deadlines and willing to pay for my additional time.

Through this experience, I learned a few key things that I want to share with you. These may reiterate some of Marcia's suggestions, but that just means their even more relevant.

1. It's really important to understand the project before you take the job. It's expected that you ask lots of questions and understand the client's audience, intentions, and needs. Break down the time period you'll need to complete the project and make sure you're getting paid accordingly. If you are taking the project on alone, give yourself some leeway hours just in case.

2. Once the project starts, communicate regularly with the client. If you've preproposed deadlines or check-in days, be sure to stick to them. In my case, the communication kept her in the loop and led to more pay when I made her aware of every step and why it took so much longer then originally planned.

3. Loving or knowing the topic well ahead of time makes the project go smoother. Most freelancers have one or more niches that they write within, and often those topics are what they are passionate about. Those are the ghostwriting topics you should consider, especially when you will be working on it for a month or for thousands of words. In my case, this big project called to my passion for natural health care and treatments.

In the end, this ghostwriting endeavor taught me a lot about deadlines and my time's worth. I also discovered that if I'm going to write that many words for one manuscript, I'd rather it be mine and fictional. But it was a wonderful learning experience, and I still chalk it up to extra writing practice.

Have you done any ghostwriting work? What was your experience like? Please tell me in the comments below!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Ghostwriting Series #2: How Can You Ghostwrite a Book in 30 days?


In March, I had special guest Marcia Layton Turner, co-founder of the Association of Ghostwriters, give us the pros and cons of ghostwriting as a form of freelancing. She wanted to give more insight and I couldn't resist hearing more. So let's let her have the floor again for part two of this series.


“How long does it take to ghostwrite a book?” I am frequently asked. The answer, of course, is, “It depends.” 

It depends on how much research is already available, how much research still needs to be done, whether there is an approved outline, how many interviews are needed, how long the desired finished product is, but most of all, it depends on when the client wants it done.

I’ve found that, like most corporate meetings, book writing projects can expand to fill the time allotted. So give me four months and it will take four months. Give me six and it will take six. Give me 30 days and a large enough financial incentive and I will find a way to get it done in 30 days.

Yes, it may require the help of others, such as transcriptionists and online researchers, but you can write a book in 30 days and it can be of top quality, believe it or not. The last book I wrote in 30 days was bought by a major publisher and is expected to sell hundreds of thousands – even millions – of copies.

Here is my process for getting it done:

Line up a team of specialists to which you can outsource. Even if you clear your calendar, turn down all other work, and limit sleep to three hours a night, it’s possible you won’t finish the book in time without outside help. Identify the work to be done that does not require your involvement, where you don’t add much value. That includes research, setting interview appointments, fact checking, transcribing interviews, and editing, to name some of the most common tasks you can delegate.

Quickly wrap up any work already in-house. While you can and should turn down any new opportunities that arise in the next three weeks, or at least try and push them into next month, you can’t suddenly drop work you’re in the middle of or have committed to. So take the next few days, as you’re ramping up on the book, to focus on the work you need to finish. You’ll be much more able to focus on the big project if you’re not worried about that little project due next Thursday. Then turn your attention to the book.

Start with the end in mind. Work backward from your desired due date using your outline and a calendar as a guide. Set deadlines based on the number of chapters. If you have 15 chapters to write, that’s a chapter every two days. Ten chapters? You have three days each.

Determine where the missing information is. Talk through your outline up front and assess where you will get the background material you’ll need. Do you need to schedule interviews with individuals, scour Lexis-Nexis for old articles, flip through court records on site somewhere? Once you know where your information is you can divide up the tasks and assign them to specialists to complete, so you can stay focused on writing.

Schedule client interviews. Since your author-client is the book’s visionary, it’s up to him or her to guide your work. Schedule phone or in-person interviews according to your work schedule, so that you’re working in linear fashion through the chapters. Make sure your client is available to give you what you need information-wise. A 30-day schedule only works if everyone is devoted to the task.

Get on the phone. Following your agreed-up work schedule, interview your client to collect the information you need. What are their thoughts, observations, key points, questions, or opinions on the material shared in the introduction? If they can’t answer your questions, who can? Ask questions, push back, and agree on what the chapter should contain.

Get started. Once you have all the background information you can get your hands on, write. I always want to peruse and study all the information related to a chapter, to wrap my head around the content, and then I start to write. Once you know the point and how the client wants to get there, using the background information you’ve been given, it shouldn’t take too long to write it up. 

A 45,000-word book of, say, 15 chapters, requires about 3,000 words per chapter. That’s essentially a long magazine article. Surrounded by the material – your interviews, background research, statistics, reports, and a chapter outline - it is very possible to power through a draft.

Will it be perfect? No, it’s a rough draft. The goal is to shape the material into what the client wanted to convey in that chapter in a way that sounds like they wrote it. You’ll edit and massage it later. Right now, your task is to simply get it down on paper.

Move on to the next chapter. Once you’ve completed the introduction, or chapter 1 – some writers prefer to leave the introduction to last – get on the phone to talk through chapter 2. Then write.
The process becomes very methodical, very systematic.

Once you have a rough draft of the book, it’s time to circle back around and talk through each chapter draft with your client. What do they like, what do they not like? Where is it missing a key fact from last year’s Census data? Where is it missing an anecdote? Who can be hired to get that information while you focus on the actual editing?

You may also choose to hire an editor to take a first pass at your first draft, suggesting needed revisions and pointing out obvious holes. Working in tandem with an editor – they’re editing as you’re writing - can help you arrive at a publishable manuscript faster.

Are 30-day book projects the norm? No, thank goodness. But when a client is given an opportunity to speak at a major conference next quarter and wants to sell books at the back of the room, or would like to hand out a book as a client gift at the end of the year, you may need to figure out how to get it done in time for them.

While devoting yourself 24/7 to a book for 30 days can be stressful, painful, and tiring, the upside is that you can earn a sizeable fee in little more than four weeks. Tacking on a surcharge of between 20-50% of the total project value isn’t unheard of. 

For many ghostwriters, that’s reason enough to write a book in 30 days.

Marcia Layton Turner is a ghostwriter and freelancer who focuses mainly on business topics. She has authored, co-authored, or ghosted more than 30 non-fiction books. She is also founder and executive director of the Association of Ghostwriters. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.

Thank you so much Marcia for sharing your wisdom with us again today. I'll be rounding out this series next week with some tidbits of experience I have  from ghostwriting projects of my own. See you then!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Welcome Becky Villareal!

Happy Monday Everyone!

I'm thrilled to be interviewing Becky Villareal today as a stop on her blog tour for her novel Gianna the Great, recently published by Anaiah Press.

1. Can you tell us a little bit about your writing career? Is this your first published novel?
I have been writing since I was six years old and could make little books out of scraps of paper.  Since then, I have published articles in the Dallas Morning News, have been a finalist in the Texas Writer’s Journal quarterly, and have a website entitled “Becky’s Getaway” at where I publish short stories. Gianna the Great is my first published novel.

2. What inspired Gianna the Great?
Gianna was inspired by two people, my mother, and a young girl from my journal club named Gianna.  She was interested in everyone and everything and very bright and articulate.  My mother did not have any knowledge of her family history and I began my genealogical research because of her. I was also inspired by the character Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. 

3. In the blurb released by Anaiah Press, Gianna is looking for her family history. Why is this so important to her?
Gianna has no knowledge of her family.  She knows she doesn’t look a lot like her mother and wonders who she does look like.  She wants to find out not only about her family, but the beginnings of her family as well.  As it turns out, the more she finds out, the more she wants to know.

4. What are Gianna's talents? Flaws? How do they help and hinder her in the novel?
Gianna is bright and curious especially about people and the reason they do things.  This is the biggest reason she is so interested in her family.  Her determination and doggedness, though a bit aggravating to her mother at times, will help her persevere when she comes to dead ends.  She also wants to know why her ancestors made the decisions they did.  How did these decisions help them to survive and go on?  This will be revealed more and more as the stories go on and she is able to help others in their journeys as well.

5. What kind of research did you have to do?
In order to complete this work, I had to explore all the avenues of genealogical research including the National Archives, the Baptismal Records of Mexico, and pictorial records from Fold 3 as well as  I also had to do research within the library system itself and within the records of the Family Search organization in order to find out not only about my own family but to experience what Gianna will have to face as she continues this journey.

6. How much time did you spend on the opening line or paragraph? Has it changed in the publishing process?
This opening line has changed again and again especially when the book format itself changed to become that of an early reader instead of a young-adult book.
Why did you decide to work with Anaiah Press to get Gianna out into the world?
Jessica Schmeidler, the editor I worked with in the beginning, showed a genuine interest in not only my work but my characters as well.  “I want to see more of them,” she stated and won me over completely.  

7. Where's your favorite place to write?
In a big blue leather chair and ottoman by the window in the den of my home.

8. When do you do your best brainstorming?
I can be in the middle of house cleaning, making dinner, or driving home from work and ideas pop into my head.  I have to keep a notebook close by otherwise I’ll lose those nuggets of inspiration the Lord sends from time to time.

9. What advice would you give to unpublished authors?
To believe in yourself and never give up.  To believe in your writing and follow your personal passion.  I would also like to recommend for them to look inward, what is special about you and your story?  What can you bring to the table that is fresh and alive that no one else can share?   Also, collect positive quotes about writing and join others who are struggling and don’t be afraid to help other beginning writers. 

That advice speaks so much to me! Thank you so much for being here today Becky! Congrats on Gianna's release!