Writers Cubed Gets National Attention

Author Jonathan Ryan interviewed my writers group for his blog on patheos.com, a large and in charge inter-faith website. Not many people know the history of Writers Cubed, so I’m honored that he found our little story news worthy.

Bound by Words: Love, Tragedy and Faith in a Writer’s Group

by Jonathan Ryan
    The “lone wolf” writer is firmly fixed in the cultural psyche. Everyone believes the phrase, “writing is a solitary profession.” There is some truth to the statement. When a person sits down to write, they’re doing it by themselves with no one looking over their shoulder.  It’s just them and the voice (sometimes voices) in their heads. People picture the writer, hammering away on the computer, lost in the thoughts of their own head and locking out the rest of the world.
Like most cultural images, this picture only contains part of the truth. The reality is much more complex, and is actually more group oriented than you might expect. Why? The simple answer is that most writers know that really amazing writing can only be born out of a community. A writer needs other people to critique their work and see things they cannot. While I don’t have a formal group, there is a group of people whose opinions I trust, beginning and ending with my fantastic agent.
However, other writers like to make the arrangement more formal and form groups. Very often, these groups become more than just literary discussions. The members start becoming an integral part of each other’s lives. An obvious example can be found in the most famous writers group in history, The Inklings, who met at the Eagle and Child in Oxford. The members included C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams and a group of other writers who would discuss their works in progress. It’s no exaggeration to say that these writers produced some of the most influential and popular books of the 20th century. Yet, they also comforted each other in times of suffering, including the sudden death of Williams in 1945, an event that rocked the group to its core.
The ladies of Writers Cubed, who startedTeen Author Boot Camp, are a great example of a writers group who became a circle of tight friends. I met them through Jo Schaffer, one of our writers here on Geek Goes Rogue. She introduced me to the group and they did me the amazing honor of fitting me into this year’s boot camp.  How can you not love a conference that seeks to help develop young writers by inviting some of the bestselling YA authors (and me) to be “Drill Sergeant” instructors?
As I’ve gotten to know them, I started to learn the story of their writers group. I grew fascinated by some of the things they shared, so I asked them to do an interview with Geek Goes Rogue.  They all agreed and Margie, Jo, Jen, Lois, and Tahsha called in for a Skype interview. What I originally planned to be just a half hour discussion turned into a fascinating, beautiful, and sometimes sad story.
Writers Cubed began in a local high school south of Provo, Utah.  As it turns out, Utah is a hotbed of successful, published authors and aspiring writers. One particular writer (the group calls him Dad), J Scott Savage, decided to teach a writing class for local adults in 2009. When the soon-to-be-members of Writers Cubed started attending the class (except for Jo), none of them knew each other.
After hearing Jeff talk about the need for writer groups, Jen Jenkins put the word out to the class that she wanted to start one. Ten people signed up, including Margie, Lois, and Tahsha. A former member of the group invited Jo, and they all agreed to start meeting.
At first, the group found it difficult to find places to meet. Just about everyone in the group has a family and couldn’t break away to meet until late.
“Kinda hard to find late night meeting space in small town Utah that isn’t a bar,” Margie said, and they all laughed.
Finally, they found a 24-hour grocery store that agreed to let them use their deli space. In the midst of bread, meat, and cheese, they read their work, encouraged each other, and began to bond as friends. Soon, they started going over to each other’s houses and intertwining their lives.
They weren’t prepared for what happened next.
Tragedy began to find the group in terrible and unexpected ways. One former member, Ted, suffered a stroke, and his wife passed away. Lois said, “We went to the hospital and then helped him with the funeral. I think we all realized at that point we’d become more than just a writers group.”
While they mourned with Ted, their group continued meeting every week as they grew in their skills as writers. New members would come and go, but the core that remained became a tight knit circle. This bond helped them through one of the worst day of their lives: February 12, 2011.
    The day started off like any other. They took their kids to school, went to work, and set about their normal routines. None of them realized the day would alter their lives forever.
    Around 6 p.m., Lois received a phone call from another group member.
    “Lois, Amy’s (former member) house is burning down, can you get everyone together?!”
    As fast as she could, Lois texted, called, and emailed everyone. They all rushed to help Amy. Along the way, group members picked up emergency supplies for Amy’s family.  They arrived just in time to watch the rest of the house go up in flames. All of them hugged, cried, and tried to help.
    Margie shook her head. “We thought it was as bad as it could get at that point.”
    Just before the group decided to head back home, Tahsha’s phone rang.
    “Hello?”
    The voice on the other end said, “Tahsha, Brad’s (her husband) glider crashed in a canyon. He is being airlifted out.”
    She recalls, “My body just went numb as I stared at the glowing embers of Ann’s house. I kept pressing for information, but Brad’s friends didn’t know anymore.”
    Tahsha’s husband owned a two seat powered parachute that he liked to fly over the deserts of Utah. According to friends, a vicious downwind caught his parachute and sent him plunging into a ravine.
    The group all piled in the car as they prepared to drive two hours to the hospital. After a few phone calls, they realized they should go back to Tahsha’s house. While they waited for news, her father, a sheriff, came walking up to the house.
    Tahsha said, “When I saw his face, I knew, he didn’t have to say anything.”  The entire group collapsed together, clinging to each other in their grief. Brad had passed away from his injuries.
    As they finished telling the story, I asked all of them a natural question. “Do you think God put you all together for that moment?”
The entire group answered with a resounding, yes.
Jo said, “We all started becoming more and more aware of that after Brad’s accident. All of us are very strong believers who believe our faith informs our writing. It was strange; when Jen got us together, I don’t think any of us would have said that right up front. We just wanted to be better writers.”
Around the time of the accident, the group prepared for their first Teen Author Boot Camp. As a writers group, they attended a few writer conferences, none of which really impressed them. While sitting in one particular conference, Jo started to wonder: “Could we do a conference or retreat?”
The group realized they wanted to encourage young writers, as none of them received much encouragement to write during their teen years. So, at one group meeting Jo said, “Why don’t we just put on a writers boot camp for teens?”
They all loved the idea and started to call in favors. Jen marched into Utah Valley University and told them, “Hey, you need us here, how about giving us some space?”
All of the girls laughed as they said, “We really had no idea what we were doing, so we just figured it out as we went along. We used our writer’s network, called in favors, and set the whole thing up. Margie is a teacher, so she was able to advertise in the school system.”
They expected about 25 students to sign up; instead, 130 students showed up. Since the conference began, the numbers have jumped every year from 130 to 250 to 375, and now this year 450 students have registered. Writers Cubed brings in the hottest YA authors in the country. This year the conference will have two NYT bestselling authors, James Dashner andAlly Condie, as the keynote speakers.
However, Margie is quick to point out, “We aren’t really going after names; we are going after authors who can actually teach and who the kids love.”
“In the end,” Jo said, “We don’t want anyone that the kids can’t relate to or learn from.”
“We also don’t make any money off the conference at all. In fact, we usually scramble to make sure all costs are covered,” Lois said. She also pointed out that they started their own nonprofit so that people who donate can receive tax benefits.
As the conversation wound down, the ladies of Writers Cubed became reflective. “We just want to share what we’ve learned in the past seven years with other writers. All of us love telling stories, and we want to keep it going.” Jen said, as they all agreed. “Of course, we want our own writing to get out there, but we hope our little group works hard to help other artists, including the ones who are just learning. That doesn’t mean we’re perfect or that we don’t have our issues. We do, but we work them out because we’ve been through the fire together.”

DEFY

All right, I’m on a kick with all of these blog tours. There are lots of good books coming out right now. This week I want to introduce you to a little dandy entitled, DEFY, by the beautiful and talented Sara B. Larson. I currently own both a hard and digital copy of this book, but this is me holding my favorite kind of copy… an ARC (advanced reader copy).

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DEFY is a story about a girl named Alexa who, at a young age, makes the choice to cut her hair to pretend to be a boy soldier in the king’s army. Since the alternative was being made a slave in the “breeding house” I’d say she made a good choice. She and her twin brother, Marcel, become incredible fighters. So good, they find themselves working in the prince’s elite royal guard. Loyalties are tested and dark magic and sorcery play a huge role in this adventure romance, especially once the people she cares about most, a fellow guard named Rylan and Prince Damian, reveal a secret of their own . . .

Expect action and a unique new world that you’ve never experienced in Sara’s debut masterpiece. Can’t wait for the next book!

Pick it up! Last I checked, it was $2.99 on kindle and $14.09 on Amazon. Or you can go support your local bookstore which is always a good idea.

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EXTRACTED Interview

I must be doing something right, because I was invited to be apart of a sweet blog tour for the first installment of the LOST IMPERIALS series. See look, they even gave me a badge….EXTRACTED-tour-badge

That or I downloaded it from someone else’s blog. I’ll leave that for you to decide.

I know you’re dying to hear more about this delicious new steampunk, time travel gem, so without further adieu, here’s the book jacket:

Welcome to the war. The Tesla Institute is a premier academy that trains young time travelers called Rifters. Created by Nicola Tesla, the Institute seeks special individuals who can help preserve the time stream against those who try to alter it. The Hollows is a rogue band of Rifters who tear through time with little care for the consequences. Armed with their own group of lost teens–their only desire to find Tesla and put an end to his corruption of the time stream. Torn between them are Lex and Ember, two Rifters with no memories of their life before joining the time war. When Lex’s girlfriend dies during a mission, the only way he can save her is to retrieve the Dox, a piece of tech which allows Rifters to re-enter their own timeline without collapsing the time stream. But the Dox is hidden deep within the Telsa Institute, which means Lex must go into the enemy camp. It’s there he meets Ember, and the past that was stolen from them both comes flooding back. Now armed with the truth of who they are, Lex and Ember must work together to save the future before the battle for time destroys them both again.

After devouring this book, I talked to Tyler Jolley and Sherry Flicklin (co-authors, see bios below) about the creative process…

Me: I’m currently in the plotting phase of co-authoring myself, and am curious how you handled the team writing. Did you each choose a character? And if so, who and why? Or did you divide the book by scenes and play to your respective writing strengths? Was the collaboration process difficult? Would you do it again (Outside the Lost Imperials series, that is)?

SherryIt wasn’t something either of us had experience with, so it was very much trial and error for us. We knew we had these two characters. I knew which one I wanted to write, so I handed the very rough idea for the other character to Tyler and asked if he thought he would be interested. The fact that he was able to create and build the character the way he did was pure luck on my part. I’m not sure how he was able to make Lex his own, but he really did. At the beginning of the process we wrote separate chapters and sort of leap–frogged each other chapter to chapter. Later, when we had to come together and work, it was a little harder. But having gone through it once, it’s made working on the next book much easier. I don’t know if I would do it again, outside this series. Maybe. It would depend on the person I’d be working with.

TylerJen, thank you so much for having us I feel like we didn’t even have to twist your arm that much. You are going to really enjoy co-authoring. Sherry’s correct there was some trial and error to the way we did it, but once you get in the groove of things it becomes quite enjoyable. It’s almost like a built in critique partner or cheerleader. Make sure the co-author is someone who can compromise on ideas or anything that has to do with the book. Sherry and I are both very strong personalities, but we both respect each other and what one another brings to the team. There are bumps and disagreements, but if you have the correct person you will be able to make it through any stressful brainstorming or editing session.

(Me) I’ve always been a huge fan of time travel, but have felt unequal to the task of keeping track of the plot and developing a convincing system of rules/world building. How did you come up with the unique time travel-snail-Contra method for EXTRACTED? I’ve honestly read nothing like it.

SherryGoing in we both had different ideas about what methods we wanted to use, which actually worked out well for our story because we knew the factions would each have very different ways of achieving the same ends. The Tesla Institute uses tech to create the mental resonance. At the core of the Institute, they have nicer equipment, and are more military about how things like that are done. The Hollows is a whole different ballgame. I’ll let Tyler explain that.

TylerThe snail thing is right out of my crazy brain. We had to have a little science behind even though it is way out there. When the contra pill is made the chemical inside has a specific time stamp for the time they are targeting. It works on aligning the mental resonance also. Think of it like each time has a different wavelength, Contra aligns the time travelers resonance in their brains to the exact wavelength of the particular time. Kind of like tuning a radio and trying to find a clear signal. The main thing is when we came up with the concept we had to come up with specific rules and we really tried never to break the rules of the time travel in Extracted.

(Me) I don’t want to include any spoilers, especially for the 450 teens coming to see you (Tyler) at Teen Author Boot Camp in March. But I have to ask, did you first start out with the concept of writing a time travel steampunk, or was it the Romanov siblings that first got the creative gears spinning?

SherryThe idea of the Romanovs kicked off the idea. Making it steampunk just sort of fit with the idea of Tesla and what everyone was doing. Plus, it’s just a fun aesthetic to create a world in.

Tyler I can’t wait to meet every single one. We are going to have a good ‘ol time. Sherry had this idea of using the Romanov family especially Ember. She wanted to have Lex in there also, but felt she needed a guy with Peter Pan syndrome to write a teenage boy part. That is where I entered the scene. After the first few meetings we started talking about what the world would look like and what type of environment the time travelers would live in. Steampunk just seemed to fit. 

(Me) This is the obvious one… WHEN DOES THE NEXT BOOK COME OUT? How many can we plan for in this series? (I’m dying here. Dying.)

SherryWe don’t have a release date yet for book two. But I will say that it is from the POV of two different characters (from the first book). We looked at the plot and said, “who has the most to lose during this part of the story?” and that’s how we picked. We actually outlined books 2&3 at the same time, so we are very aware of how it all comes together in the end.

TylerThere won’t be any promises but we are working real hard to have it come out in 2015. It is going to be epic. Second books are the hardest to write as an actual story and not just a filler book. We know this and have some awesome plots ready. Many more questions will be answered, even the ones you didn’t know you had. 

For you Teen Author Boot Campers, you can catch Tyler Jolley on March 8th where he’ll be teaching a class on Genre Mashups and Graphic Novels/Comics. You can learn more about the TABC schedule here.

In the meantime, pick up EXTRACTED!

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Meet Tyler Jolley and Sherry Flicklin, the co-authors of EXTRACTED.

Tyler H. Jolley is a sci-fi/fantasy author and full-time orthodontist, periodontist (see: Overachiever). He divides his spare time between writing, reading, mountain biking, and camping with his family.

Sherry D. Ficklin is a full-time writer and internet radio show host with more mouth then good sense. She has a serious book addiction, but continually refuses treatment, much to her husband’s chagrin.

Tyler and Sherry met one fateful day and bonded over their love for books, science fiction, and donuts. Their first co-written novel came shortly after. Now, they still do all those other things, but also go to various steampunk conventions and events under the guise of ‘research’. They can often be found lurking on the Lost Imperials Facebook page or over on the official website, www.thelostimperials.com.

 

SKY JUMPERS!

Sky Jumpers cover

Congratulations to Peggy Eddleman for the release of her big debut SKY JUMPERS! This lead title from Random House has received a ton of hype. My kids and I can’t wait to “sky dive” into this book!

peggy presentsSorry, these are a bit blurry, but this is a shot of Peggy’s packed launch party last night.

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Me, Peggy, and fellow Writers Cubed member Jo Schaffer

So happy to announce that Peggy will be presenting at the 4th annual

Teen Author Boot Camp in March 2014!

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Now go order SKY JUMPERS for your 8-12 year old!