Author Interviews

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Thursday, 7 February 2013

Author interview no.577 with fantasy and YA author Elaine Ouston (revisited)

Back in December 2012, I interviewed author Elaine Ouston for my WordPress blog. I hope you enjoy it...
Welcome to the five hundred and seventy-seventh of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with fantasy and YA author Elaine Ouston. 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, Elaine. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Elaine OustonElaine: Hi Morgen. I am an Australian writer, based in sunny (mostly) Queensland. I write for children and young adults. I became interested in writing at school and would spend hours coming up with interesting plots and, according to my mother, far-fetched stories, for the simplest English assignments. Work took over and I didn’t get back to writing for a long time.
In the 80’s I travelled to England, the country of my mother’s birth, to spend some time. While I was waiting for my work permit, I went to the library to research the native animals of the British Isles. I was fascinated to learn that while many of these animals were very different in appearance, they lived in a similar manner. I thought my grandchildren at home would be interested to learn about these animals so I wrote and illustrated a short story for them. This story flamed my latent desire to be a writer, but work soon took over. It wasn’t until 5 years ago that I could get back to my dream.
Morgen: Every writer reading this will know how work takes over… like takes over so easily. I ‘found’ creative writing (through and evening class) eight years ago and was hooked but it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I contemplated giving up my day job (which I did in March this year). What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Elaine: I am a fantasy author, but my animal adventure for young readers wasn’t written in that genre – although come to think about it, talking animals is fantasy. :) I have developed a plot for a YA book that isn’t fantasy, but I fear that once I get started, fantasy elements may creep in when I’m not looking.
Morgen: Fantasy readers reading this won’t complain. :) Besides, fiction may be based on what we know but it’s often our fantasy, what we dream up for our characters. What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Captured cover frontElaine: I write and live under my maiden name. I have three published books. The animal adventure Lost in a Strange Land for early readers, and two books in a series, The Mystery of Nida Valley. The first book was released in May 2011 and the second, Captured – The Mystery of Nida Valley was released in June 2012. Both are available on Amazon as eBook and paperback.
Morgen: Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Elaine: I had a few rejections, but they were so very positive about my stories and my writing that they left me wondering, if you like it so much why are you rejecting it? But I know that there are many reasons that books are rejected and sometimes it is not because of the writing. I had faith in my writing, so I just got on with writing and submitting.
Morgen: I think all of us have had rejections like that; just the right thing for the wrong person, or the right person at the wrong time. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions?
Elaine: I was long-listed for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Competition recently. But I don’t worry about contests very much. I write for my readers not judges.
Morgen: Absolutely, although judges are readers too (or should be). Like the rejections, it’s only one person’s opinion. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Elaine: I had an agent interested at one stage, but her vision for my book and mine didn’t match. I would love to have an agent and think they are a huge help to an author. They allow us to step back from the money side of negotiations and focus on the artistic side.
Morgen: I self-publish but would still love an agent. :) You mentioned earlier that your books are available as eBooks. How involved were you in that process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Elaine: Both books in The Mystery of Nida Valley series are available as an eBook worldwide – through Apple, Amazon, Google eBooks and many more. I formatted the books for publishing by Smashwords. I have an iPad and love to read on it, but I still like paper books as well.
Morgen: Me too. I’m surrounded by books at home but love knowing that I have 400+ books to choose from when I’m out. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Elaine: All authors need to be continually marketing their books and their brand – even the ones who are published by the big publishing houses, and who have an agent. The publishers can only do so much to get you started and then it is up to us to keep our name and the books title in people’s minds. I organise book signings, school visits, library appearances and blog tours, and continually send articles and books for review to newspapers and magazines – both in print and online.
Morgen: To-date I’ve only had one author say that her publisher does her marketing but she’s very active online so we all have to do our bit. 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?
Elaine: The main character in The Mystery of Nida Valley, Meg Sealy, is my favourite character. She is feisty and not real good with restrictions and authority, but is loyal, loving and strong. I don’t know enough teen actresses to choose one. Maybe your readers could suggest someone.
Morgen: That would be great… yes, please do, folks. Did you choose the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Elaine: I chose the illustrator for my covers and he worked to my briefs. The cover of a book will sell it; make no mistake on that point. It is vital that it screams to the book browser what kind of book they are looking at, and what they can expect to find inside.
Morgen: A good cover / title will certain entice the reader to read the blurb. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Elaine: I am editing the first book in another series, Barben’s Magic Quest. I hope to have that published shortly. And, having just published Captured, book two in the series The Mystery of Nida Valley, I need to get started on book three. I also have a YA book that is half complete. I really need more writing time at the moment.
Morgen: :) Don’t we all. I’m sure the days are getting shorter as I get older. Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Elaine: Writer’s block is not a problem for me. Finding the time to write is my main challenge. I work in publishing so I am very busy with other people’s books most of the time and have to fight to find space for my own writing.
Morgen: Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Elaine: I’m a plotter. I need to at least have the beginning, the end, and an idea of a couple of the big scenes before I start. Of course, like every other writer, my characters sometimes lead me onto a side road that I wasn’t planning to take, so some of my well planned scenes become something else entirely, but usually for the best.
Morgen: They do, and I love that. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Elaine: The characters appear to me as soon as I start to develop a plot. Once I have established who they are, I do an interview sheet on each. I ask them many personal questions about their past, their dreams, their faults, and strengths, etc. I also ask each one their opinion of the other characters around them. This way when they start to interact, I know how they feel about their friends or enemies etc. Their names usually develop as I interview them. Sometimes they change along the way – names and characteristics. I try to give them personalities (or combinations of personalities) of the people I know so they are believable. I spend time sitting and listening to the teens around me to try and make their dialogue believable.
Morgen: Nina Munteanu wrote a brilliant guest post for me yesterday on quizzing your characters: Do you write any poetry? If so, why do you think it’s such a difficult market to break into? Are there any tips you could give to someone wishing to write poetry?
Elaine: I do put a little simple poetry in my stories, but I would not call myself a poet.
Morgen: Me neither. I dabble but I don’t read it (other than occasional humorous pieces from Shel Silverstein – his ‘Snowball’ and ‘It’s Dark in Here’ are classics – or Wendy Cope, who I met a few months ago at a local library event. Pam Ayres is funny too). Do you write any non-fiction or short stories?
Elaine: I have written a couple of columns about writing and I have had short stories for children published in school magazines.
Morgen: Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Elaine: I don’t believe that there is an author who doesn’t have to rewrite a couple of times and then edit at least 10 times. The first draft of a book is just that – the ideas transferred from our minds to the computer screen or printed page. It is after that that we turn it into a story that people want to read. I believe that all writers should be edited by an experienced editor, before the manuscript is sent to a publisher. It is too easy for an author to miss holes in the story etc.
Morgen: Some writers are intimidated by the blank page but you can’t edit it so I agree, just write and deal with the writing afterwards. I edited The Serial Dater’s Shopping List six or seven times and had two first readers go through it so almost up to your ten. :) Do you have to do much research?
Elaine: As my book has an educational element and is based around actual animals that existed over 40,000 years ago, the research was extensive and all information had to be factual.
Morgen: It does because there’ll always be an ‘expert’ out there who will be only too happy to point out the inaccuracies, but then that’s the great thing about eBooks; you can tweak and re-upload. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Elaine: I write in third person, but from the point of view of only one character. I have tried first person, but prefer third. I have ghost written a book on racing from the impersonal omniscient point of view (as though seen through a camera lens) but never in second person.
Morgen: Second person is great for shorter pieces, especially dark. It’s an interesting point of view to try, and most people love it or hate it, like Marmite… Vegemite. :) Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Elaine: I think we all have several of those. Some need a lot of work and others are not worth working on.
Morgen: I have over 100 short stories and dozens of poems buried in files. I’m hoping the former are ‘need a lot of work’ and I suspect the poems are the latter (see earlier reference to me not being a poet). :) What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Elaine: My favourite aspect is the escapism of getting lost in the world of my story to the point that the real world disappears. My least favourite is not enough writing time. I am constantly surprised by the words that appear on the screen when I am lost in my writing world. I sometimes wonder where they come from.
Morgen: Snap. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Elaine: Write, and write, and write, and seek feedback from experienced writers. No matter how brutal it may seem at the time, it will make you into a better writer.
Morgen: “seek feedback from experienced writers” perfect cue to tout my new blog page: where writers and readers swap free feedback. :) 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)?
Elaine: My author heroes, J RR Tolkien, Enid Blyton, and JK Rowling. What would I cook – I find everyone loves a good old-fashioned roast dinner, so that would do.
Morgen: I’d love to have JK Rowling as a guest here, maybe for my 1,000th interview but I suspect nearer my 2,000th. :) Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Elaine: The difference between an amateur and a professional writer is persistence.
Morgen: I like that, and so true. If you love it, you’ll just keep going. Success could be just round the corner and you’ll never know if you give up. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Elaine: I edit for others, I’m supervising editor for a writers’ group that is working on an anthology, and I am managing editor of my own publishing imprint, Morris Publishing Australia.
Morgen: I should have you back in your publishing capacity – I have a separate set of questions for publishers. :) What do you do when you’re not writing?
Elaine: At the moment, sleep. I am so busy that I have no time for anything but domestic drudgery and work. When my life is in a saner place, I like to paint and walk on the beach.
Morgen: How lovely. I’d like to do more of all that (apart from the domestic drudgery – writing is my ‘work’). I have tons of art equipment in my loft but it just gathers dust (actually for an old house, 1936, is surprisingly undusty) and I’m three hours in most directions from the beach. :( Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Elaine: I’m on Facebook, LinkedIn and have my own blog, I have found Facebook and LinkedIn valuable for connecting with other writers and publishing professionals. They also help to raise your profile as a writer.
Morgen: It’s great, isn’t it. Put a question or shout-out on there and invariably you get some great feedback. Putting a shout-out for interviewees back in February has meant I’m now booking into next July with another 900 questionnaires still out (so I’ve pulled the shout-out). What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Elaine: I believe that within a few years eBooks will be the most popular form of books, so it will be a lot easier to be a published author. Self-publishing an eBook is cost free, but this could flood the market with books that are not ready, and it will be harder to get noticed. Marketing and establishing a good network of readers will be even more important.
Morgen: Amazon are selling more eBooks than forms of paperback (pBooks). I agree about the ‘books that are not ready’. Only last week I spotted someone on LinkedIn saying she was going to upload her novel once she’d edited it – no hint of a second opinion. Needless to say I had my (polite but constructive) penny’s worth on that discussion. :) Where can we find out about you and your work?
Morgen: Thank you, Elaine.
I then invited Elaine to include an extract of her writing and this is from ‘Captured’ – Book two in The Mystery of Nida Valley series.
The wings of Meg’s pterosauradon, Mondy, beat gently as they soared above the hidden valley. A rush of pleasure surged through her. Her heart swelled with pride. How awesome that one day I will be the Grand Leader of the Guardians of Nida, the group who protect this amazing place, she thought.
Her best friend Amanda and cousin Jaiden flew alongside, the wing tips of their pteros just metres from Mondy’s. She waved and they grinned at her, enjoying the early morning ride. The sun reflected off the foliage of the giant, ancient trees that reached for the sky. The contrast of the different coloured leaves and the fire engine red flowers of the flame trees dotted throughout the forest, created a mosaic of colour.
Marsupial tapirs, short-faced kangaroos and the hippo like creature, the zygomaturus, grazed on the grassy plains or drank at water holes that sparkled like diamonds in the sun’s rays. An involuntary, ‘Wow,’ escaped her lips when they flew over the family of dinosaurs, the muttaburrasauras, feeding on the trees near the cave that housed the time-travel portal.
A dark shadow passed over Meg, blocking out the sun’s rays. She looked up; her heart raced. She screamed, then shouted, ‘Look out! He’s back.’  The gunman they had an air battle with just days ago was back.
I then invited Elaine to include a synopsis of her books and this is also of ‘Captured’…
Last time we shared a story, fourteen-year-old Meg Sealy, her friend Amanda, and her older cousin Jaiden, stumbled upon a secret valley where time stands still. The three friends were thrust into a dangerous world of magic, time travel, and creatures they believed extinct. They learnt that it is their destiny to use their new magic skills to join the fight to save the valley from an evil breakaway order bent on exploitation, led by Grundymere.
Book two is a story of mystery, time-travel, and magic. Grundymere is still at large and seems determined to capture Meg. The elders of the Order believe it is to stop her from following in her grandmother’s footsteps and becoming the next Grand Leader of the order that protects the valley, The Guardians of Nida – but the reason is much more sinister.
Follow their journey as Meg strives to control her escalating magic powers, stay out of the clutches of Grundymere, and sort out her relationship with Jack and Michael. As she and her friends continue the fight to discover the identity of the traitor in the valley, and save the megafauna wombats from extinction, life for one of Meg’s friends will change forever.
After a career as a graphic artist, copywriter and marketing consultant, Elaine retreated from the rat race and turned to her long-time dream of writing children’s fiction. To ensure she knew enough about her chosen craft, she went back to university and completed a Master of Letters in Creative Writing. She edits for other writers, teaches writing to adult students, and has started her own publishing imprint, Morris Publishing Australia.
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 questions. You complete them, I tweak them where appropriate (if necessary to reflect the blog ‘clean and light’ rating) 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.
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