Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Interview with Karen Toz

This week, on Novelwatch . . .

Lettuce welcome the brilliant Karen Toz!

Karen Pokras Toz is a writer, wife and mom. Karen grew up in Orange, Connecticut and graduated from Ithaca College with a degree in Finance. She also attended the University of Richmond, where she studied law and business, receiving both a JD and an MBA. Karen has spent the last several years working as a tax accountant, writing in numbers. She recently discovered a passion for writing with words. In June 2011, Karen published her first children’s novel Nate Rocks the World. She is currently working on the second book in the Nate Rocks series to be published in 2012, and she is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI), Association of Independent Authors (AIA), and the Independent Author Network (IAN).

Nicole: When did you start writing? Has writing always been a big part of your life? Will it continue to be?

Karen: I only start writing about a year and a half ago. In my *other* life, I work as an accountant – I’ve always been a numbers person, but now that I’ve discovered writing, I feel like I’ve opened up a whole different side of myself. Yes – I would hope writing continues to be a big part of my life.

N: What inspired you to begin writing?

K: It’s hard to say. I had been carrying around an idea for a book for many years now, but was never able to figure out how to write it. At some point in 2010, I decided it was time to put pen to paper (or in my case – fingers to keyboard!)

N: Name your favorite book. What is it about it you like?

K: I don’t know that I have a favorite book – I love so many books! The Harry Potter series ranks up there, though. Besides the fact that the stories are wonderful, I love that they are books my entire family can read and enjoy and talk about together.

N: Tell us about your favorite (of your characters). What are his/her motives? Why is s/he your favorite?

K: Well of course, I love Nate, but I think the character who I love the most is Claudia Rockledge (Nate’s Mom).  Poor Claudia – bless her heart – she so wants to be the perfect homemaker and mother, but unfortunately everything she touches just turns into a hot mess. But see, Claudia really has no clue about any of it - her husband and kids perfected the art of nodding and smiling, leading her to believe she is great at anything she tries.  Come to think of it – my husband and kids nod and smile a lot ... hmmm.

N: Tell us about your least favorite (of your characters). What are his/her motives? Why is s/he your least favorite?

K: At the moment I’m working on the second book in the Nate Rocks series. There is a character in that story who is bully. I really do not like him, but I’m working hard to find him some redeeming traits.

N: What genre is your favorite to read? To write? Why?

K: I actually love to read literary fiction – character driven stories are my favorite. I love the way they explore human nature and relationships. When it comes to writing though, I love to write funny and adventurous stories for kids. I think it’s because as a kid I loved to read, and more and more I see kids reaching for video games over books. I feel as though if they had something fun to read, they’d think about picking up a book the next time they are looking for something to do.

N: If you could become one of your characters, who would it be and why? What would you do differently in your story?

K: Oh well, I would love to become Nathan. Who wouldn’t want to be the star of their own adventures and fantasies? My fantasies of course would be a bit different than a ten-year-old boy’s fantasies– (no not that!!) They would definitely involve a shopping spree (or two.)

N: How do you write? Do you have a special place, do you listen to music, how much do you write a day, etc.?

K:  I write whenever I can find a quiet space and a good amount of uninterrupted time. I used to set my alarm to wake up before everyone else just to write, but now that all three of my children are in school (yay.) I mostly write during the day when it’s just me and the cats here at home.

N: Okay . . . random question time. If you could get away with just one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?

K:  Oh I have such a long list! Are you sure I can only pick one thing? Okay – it would have to be that I would never have to do laundry again.

N: If you could go back five (or ten or twenty) years in time, what writing advice would you give yourself?

K: Just do it! Don’t wait until you are forty-something to start writing!!

Thanks for that marvelous interview! You can find out more at or swing over to Barnes and Noble or to purchase this astounding piece of literature.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Interview with Heidi Sutherlin

This week, we've got a graphic designer/cover artist/author/super mom - in her own words - on the hot seat. The writer of the extraordinary Brothers in Betrayal, Heidi Sutherlin is a kind and lovely woman in person, and her vast variety of talents make her unique.

Let's go!

Nicole: When did you start writing? Has writing always been a big part of your life? Will it continue to be?

Heidi: I've always written. I was the editor of my newspaper in high school, started out as a Journalism major in college before switching to Graphic Design. I didn't think seriously about writing a novel until my sister in law wrote her first and then her second book. My mom had always wanted me to write one and I thought to myself, "I could do that." What started out as an idle challenge, has since turned into one published book and five more in progress.

N: What inspired you to begin writing?

H: My mom. I've always been reading which naturally was the counterpart to writing. My mom writes beautifully and was always encouraging me in my own words. She taught me to read long before I went to school and gifted me with the love of stories.

N: Name your favorite book. What is it about it you like?

H: This is a tough one because I have many "favorites," but if I had to pick just one it would be a series the Sign of the Seven Trilogy by Nora Roberts. I like these three books because they combine a sense of community, a great ensemble cast, a solidparanormal aspects and suspense all in one. Nora Roberts does a wonderful job of painting a community so that you fall in love with it as much as your characters. The cast of characters, a group of six people come together and bond through their trials and the task of defeating evil. The Three Sisters Island Series also by Nora Roberts would be a close second for all of the same reasons.

N: Tell us about your favorite (of your characters). What are his/her motives? Why is s/he your favorite?

H: My favorite character comes from a comic book, Tank Girl. She is irreverent, kind, vicious, revolutionary, sarcastic, loyal and has a wicked sense of humor. She is motivated by loyalty, a very personal code of honor and a wonderful sense of fun. What's not to love there?

N: Tell us about your least favorite (of your characters). What are his/her motives? Why is s/he your least favorite?

H: I don't have a least favorite character, because I have a healthy appreciation of all characters even, sometimes especially, the evil ones.

N: What genre is your favorite to read? To write? Why?

H: My favorite genre is Romance - Suspense, Paranormal and Category. I live for the eventual happy ending, even if I have to drag my characters through terror and mayhem to get there. Although my first love has always been Science Fiction, I'm waiting to write in that genre until I'm more confident in my world building skills.

N: If you could become one of your characters, who would it be and why? What would you do differently in your story

H: At this moment, I'd want to be Grace the heroine of BROTHERS IN BETRAYAL, because she's edgy, adorable and has really great taste in shoes - Dr Martens, to be precise. However, when I inevitably fall for each character I'm writing tend to try them all on as I go.

N: How do you write? Do you have a special place, do you listen to music, how much do you write a day, etc.?

H: I write in binges, sitting down and writing 10-20k in a couple or three days. Then nothing for a week or two, sometimes longer. When I discipline myself, I can be more consistent, but I plot in my head and so when I'm ready then I sit down and let it all out. I do all of my writing at my desk and listen to appropriate music for the book I'm working on at the moment. I always write at night, as I'm a night owl.

N: Okay . . . random question time. Pirate or ninja? Which one would you rather be, and about which one would you rather write? Why?

H: Definitely Team Ninja. I'd most definitely rather write about ninjas. As a matter of fact there's a small ninja joke in this book, as I've been pro ninja for years. It's sort of a running joke between my editor and I. "Ninjas made me do it," is my favorite excuse.

N: If you could go back five (or ten or twenty) years in time, what writing advice would you give yourself?

H: If I could go back ten years or so, I'd tell recently-finished-with-college me to sit down and write a little every day. To not wait around until I'd formulated the perfect sentence in my mind, but rather, to allow the right sentences to evolve on the paper as they should.

And now, Heidi's own question to me: If you could blame ninjas for one thing and consistently be forgiven for that ONE THING, what would it be?

N: . . . all the food gone from the fridge. It was ninjas, I tell you.

You can check out Brothers in Betrayal by hopping over to its ebook format, available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords. Paperback copies are available through the publisher Brazen Snake Books on their website,

Friday, October 7, 2011

Children and Money

Teaching kids about money is one of the major concerns of parents today. How can it be done in such a way that makes sense to their young minds?
It’s important to introduce them to money as soon as possible and make sure to teach them the differences between needs and wants—and why needs are more important. Similarly, you should always stressed saving and setting goals over spending. In fact, when it comes time to assign an allowance, make sure that they set aside some money for saving; it may even be wise to open them their own savings account, assuming one can be found that does not require a large opening balance. Teach them to save up for the toys—and later iPods and even cars—they desire.
Make sure to explain how credit cards work—and about borrowing and interest. Specifically, ensure that you make out borrowing to seem like a nightmare, which it usually is, rather than the money bonanza that causes many to “blow-up” financially. Don’t allow a child or teenager control of a credit card, even for “emergencies”; instead, perhaps a debit card would be more useful. It’s been statistically shown that teenagers usually use credit cards for anything and everything, rather than merely emergencies, no matter how quick to follow the rules they usually are.
And speaking of interest, help your child learn the math—oh no, the horror!—of interest rates. Show them how, when coupled with interest over months or years, that relatively small upfront cost might balloon several-fold.
Include real-life examples in their education, such as grocery shopping, saving wisely on clothing and school supplies, and even calculating the tip for a restaurant bill.
Of course, the individual education of the child should be tailored to fit that child’s needs, but ultimately, the most important lesson your children should walk away with is that one shouldn’t fear money, budgeting, and the complexities of the financial world. With a little common sense and money smarts, they’ll be just fine.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

What's Next? by Debbie Kump

This week, I’m shaking things up a little with a guest post by the brilliant Debbie Kump. Enjoy!

These days, technological innovations occur at an amazing rate. When I was in Fourth grade, my Girl Scout Troop went on a tour of a computer because none of us had ever seen one before. The machine (a single computer, I kid you not) took up an entire room the size of our local McDonalds. When I went to college, my roommate’s desktop Apple was as powerful as the computers used to launch the Apollo Astronauts to the Moon. Nowadays, computers of that speed can fit in the palm of your hand. My third year teaching, I instructed my Eighth grade students in Seattle how to surf the Web since many had never been on the Internet before. And last week, I showed my sons a manual typewriter like the one I used to write stories as a teen. They thought it was cool to watch the arms swing up and jam together when they pressed several keys at once. Personally, I never found it that cool when my fingers were covered in ink and White-Out as I tried to correct mistakes, hoping to prevent myself from retyping the entire page.
With our culture’s increasing dependence on 3G and 4G cell phones, I have often wondered what will come next. One day at breakfast about two years ago, my husband (who is a bit of a futurist) described the idea of contact lenses that contained virtual computer screens accessible through the blink of an eye. His suggestion inspired my debut novel: an Apocalyptic Thriller entitled, 7G.
Building off our current 3G and 4G technology, 7G takes a leap into the near future when Smartphones will be obsolete. In this story, everyone uses contact lens-sized, extended wear, virtual computer screen and keyboard Digital Optic/Ophthalmic Transmitters, collectively referred to as “DOTS,” and small mobile uplinks. In the military, submariners use night vision capabilities to safely navigate from one part of the sub to another, while Marines stationed to regions of conflict within the perpetually war-torn areas of the Middle East use infrared heat signature modes to locate their enemies…and ensure their own survival. Civilians use eye and ear DOTS to surf the Internet, send a text, or read ebooks. Kids use them to watch movies and play on-line video games. Even babies piggyback off their parents’ mobile uplinks, napping to classical melodies.
With the upcoming conversion to 7G Network allowing instantaneous optical and audio recording, limitless military and civilian applications abound. Yet an unexpected programming glitch proves fatal, spelling disaster for the nation. In the aftermath of 7G, the fates of college sophomore Erik Weber and submariner Alyssa Kensington entwine, making the reader wonder if these protagonists will escape and manage to survive in a crippled world.
While editing my manuscript for 7G on a flight to my parents’ house over the Christmas holidays, my husband whipped out the SkyMall magazine, pointing to a pair of glasses that provided a GPS digital reading of the wearer’s location.
I blinked, studying the glasses again. A chill ran down my spine.
“Freaky,” I told him, my pen poised over a scene where compulsive gamers developed eye shakes when their pupils flitted rapidly back and forth to reach the desired keys on their virtual keyboard eye DOTS.
Then this summer, as my husband was enjoying Eoin Colfer’s recent Artemis Fowl: The Atlantis Complex, he paused to have me read a paragraph. In this selection, a centaur named Foaly placed a monocle over one eye to interface with a virtual system through a series of blinks and winks rather than using hardwired equipment.
Barely believing my eyes, I read the paragraph a second time, wondering when this type of technology will no longer be a work of fiction. Will a time come when all information is easily accessible on contact lenses like the eye DOTS from 7G?
Once again, these advancements beg to question, What’s next?

Thanks for that amazing look at the possible future! After graduating from Cornell University with degrees in Biology and Education, Debbie Kump taught middle and high school science in Maui, Seattle, and the Twin Cities and worked as a marine naturalist aboard a whale watch and snorkel cruise. Debbie lives in Minnesota with her husband, two sons, and three Siberian huskies. She especially enjoys writing early each morning; coaching youth soccer, hockey, lacrosse, and baseball; and dogsledding her kids to school. Her published works include the Apocalyptic Thriller, 7G (now available in ebook and paperback at Amazon, Barnes and, World Castle Publishing, and many other online vendors) and the Young Adult Romance, Exiled to the North (released this October in ebook and paperback from Whiskey Creek Press). For more information, please visit her online.
 You can find 7G on, Barnes and Noble, or right from World Castle Publishing (20% discount on paperbacks with code UYTQJ2F9).

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Interview with Michelle Izmaylov

When my sister Michelle Izmaylov was little, she always wanted to be a food taster. Sadly, this dream did not come true, and so instead she became a literature taster—that is, a writer, an illustrator, and an editor. Her voyages into the literary world were varied and exciting, and as she has not only had freelancing editing work but also high positions at two different publishing companies, Michelle truly knows the meaning of procrastination . . . because, ladies and gentleman, without that fine tool, you can get absolutely nowhere in this business—and that is pronounced busyness.
How did you develop your love of writing? – I’ve been writing (and doodling) ever since I could hold a pencil. No, seriously. My first stories were kept locked up in my head because, back then, I didn’t know how to write . . . but the minute I learned my first language (Russian), I started to channel my thoughts into words. I like to think of writing as a way to color paper with the substance of your soul.
What was the first story you ever remember writing? – I only remember the very first story I wrote because my grandmother kept it for many years. She loved to show it off to all our relatives and read it out loud, and when she did, I would hide in the closest closet . . . because that story was terrible! But we all start somewhere, and wanting to improve my work was one of my motives for continuing to write. (My grandmother is still the keeper of all my stories, good and bad alike.)
How did you discipline yourself enough to write a whole novel at such a young age? – I think the right question is how I disciplined myself to stop writing. For me, the idea of a novel is much more natural than a short story. I find the most difficult aspect of writing to be detaching yourself from your characters after you have completed a story. When you write a shorter work, you lose the people you come to love so much more quickly. So the longer the work, the longer you get to explore all the details of your characters’ lives . . . and that’s the most interesting and exciting part for me!
How did you get publishers to take notice of you? – Filed away are at least 250 reasons why I could have given up trying to get publishers to take notice of me. They are rejection letters from agents (that’s not even counting the publishers) who refused to consider my second book, Dream Saver. But because the key to success is stubbornness and refusing to quit even in the face of seemingly inevitable defeat, I kept on searching for a way to get my work into publishers’ hands. Eventually, I won a short story contest sponsored by a traditional publisher. I then asked if they would be interested in taking a look at my longer work—and they did! That company became the publisher of my second and third novel.  
Why did you decide to write your first book, The Pocket Watch? – My first book was a gift to my younger sister, who is also my best friend (forever!). She loved fantasy and so did I, so I wrote a story for her about a magical pocket watch that could teleport a girl to alien planets.
Why did you decide to get it published? – Once my first manuscript was complete, it wasn’t long before it was gathering dust on a lonely shelf in my room. It would have probably stayed that way forever if it wasn’t for my seventh grade language arts teacher, who gave us a fateful assignment: compose a story, type it up, print it out, and bring it to class. Make it two pages. Maybe three, if you’re particularly daring. Always the overachiever, I brushed off my dust collection and brought the entire fifty-page manuscript of The Pocket Watch to class. My teacher was shocked but read the story, enjoyed it, and suggested I get the book published. Like in the movie Inception (which I love!), the idea planted itself in my brain and grew.
Why do you love fantasy so much? What’s special about that genre? – I have always, ever since I was a kid, loved to read fantasy. Unlike most other genres, fantasy taps into our deepest desires—including those that can never really, truly be fulfilled. For instance, romantic comedies can happen in real life when you meet your own (goofy) Prince Charming. Murder mysteries are the daily work of police squads. But where are you going to get your own dragon? Where can you learn how to manipulate water, earth, fire, and air for use as weapons? How else will you travel to alien planets? Only through fantasy books (and movies)!
What is your favorite of your three books – and why? – In deciding my favorite, I’m divided between my most recent published novel (The Galacteran Legacy: Galaxy Watch) and the manuscript I just finished (tentatively titled Zpeed). Galaxy Watch enchants me because it taps into my wildest childhood dreams—flying on a dragon, fighting in grand battles, and saving the world! However, Zpeed is a reflecting of my shifting desires for more realistic adventure. Without giving away too much, this latest book chronicles the story of a teen growing up in a post-apocalyptic world—and the car racer with whom (she thinks) she falls in love with.  
What is your technique for writing a novel? – Before I go on a completely wild tangent, I like to set up about ten major scenes in the story. That keeps me roughly on track, but I mostly just come up with characters and then write to find out how the chemistry plays out between them (and watch how they untangle themselves from the wacky messes they get caught up with!).  
What do you come up with first – the plot or the characters? – Characters. Depending on whether or not you believe in fate, the “plots” of our real lives aren’t set out for us in advance. It’s how we face the problems we encounter in life that determines how our lives evolve. In my books, I aim for the same approach. I create characters who work their way through the ten major scenes I plan around their personalities, but all the space in between those scenes is filled with the results of the characters’ actions. Plus, sometimes the nature of those major scenes will change based on my characters’ decisions in earlier scenes.
Do you plan each chapter and scene or just start writing and see where the story goes? – A bit of both. For the most part, I let my characters write their own story. Then, once they have had their say, I go back and edit to make sure everything makes sense.
How many drafts do you write? – Oh, don’t get me started here. Galaxy Watch is, in essence, a new “draft” of my first novel, The Pocket Watch. I had the great (and wicked) pleasure of highlighting all of my first book in Microsoft Word, hitting “backspace” on my keyboard, and starting completely from scratch. Granted, that’s an extreme example, but usually parts of each of my books go through major rewrites. That’s the one downside of not having a complete plot planned in advance. It’s more fun to write along the way without a full plot, but it’s more work to edit later.
Do you edit as you write or later? – Depends on the level of editing. As I write, I watch for spelling and grammar mistakes. However, I don’t start looking for major revisions until I have completely finished the first draft. That way, I have more time to come up with better ideas that I can incorporate into the story at once at a later point.
When and where do you write? In what kind of environment – one particular place or a variety of places, with background noise or not? – Some of my author friends prefer grabbing their computers and writing in comfort of coffee shops, libraries, and parks. I will sometimes drift outside to absorb nature and jot notes, but my real writing happens in a small corner of my room. It’s easy to focus, and I have two desk lamps to cheer me on!
Do you write every day or just when the mood takes you? – I do write every day, but that usually just means emails to friends or notes about future stories. I only write my books when my emotional state mimics that of my characters at a certain point in the story. Sometimes I’ll even skip entire scenes until later in the novel; otherwise, a deeply emotional moment might feel artificial and forced.   
Do you set yourself a target word count per day or spend a certain amount of time working on your novel? – It completely varies. Some days I’ll plop down in front of the screen, have a sizzle of inspiration, and forget to eat and/or stand for five hours. Other days I’ll sit, stare at the Word document, and not be able to churn out one word. So while I aim to write about 1,000 quality words per day, the actual number is completely random.
What is the most important / exciting / rewarding part of the process? Imagining your story and characters into life, writing the scenes, editing what you’ve written??? – There’s a key reason why I usually can’t write anything shorter than huge, fat manuscripts that top 100k words, and that’s simply because the most rewarding part of writing is building your way up to a major, epic scene and finally seeing your characters work through it. This is especially the case when a serious decision has to be made, mostly because I’ve got no clue what my characters are going to choose to do!
Does your story change as it develops or turn out pretty much as you expected it to? – Hmm . . . actually, I don’t think there was a single time when the story turned out how I thought it would! That’s the best part of writing. I know how my books are going to begin, and I want to write on to find out how it’s going to end.  
Where do your ideas come from? – Ideas come from many places. They can come from daydreaming when you’re bored. They can start as forbidden desires that bubble out of your soul. They come from asking yourself questions about the world. I’ll ask myself “What if . . .?” and go from there. They can be questions like “What if my sister and I found a flying bison?” or “What if, in a post-apocalyptic city, the economy depends on racing?” (The latter is, in fact, the question explored in my latest finished manuscript, Zpeed.) 
What’s the secret to a great novel? – One sentence: Write for yourself, edit for your readers.  
What’s the secret to a great character? – There are a few factors, the most important being that your character must represent a quintessence of some characteristic. Your character must be the “greatest” or “most” something. For example, take Harry Potter. Being a wizard is pretty special, but Harry isn’t just a young wizard. He’s the most famous (and, arguably, most powerful) young wizard of all time. That makes him memorable.   
Why do you think young readers find your books so appealing? – When I write, I first and foremost do so for myself. I channel all my passion, anger, disappointment, sadness, and every other emotion roaring inside me into words. Relatable emotion is what readers connect to. Readers will care about characters who share similar feelings to what they once or currently are experiencing. And since I’m young, I still remember those feelings quite well. 
What is the biggest challenge that you have had to overcome? – When I showed up to my first day of Kindergarten, I didn’t even know English was a language (I only knew Russian). I sat in the front desk, ready to learn. When the teacher opened her mouth, some tangled garble came out. I didn’t understand one word of that alien language! The school wanted to put me into an ESOL program, but my mom convinced me to just stay in the regular class. For one full month, I barely understood anything. Then, slowly, I started to pick up the language. In a few months, I could actually fully learn with the other students. It was all a matter of not taking the traditional route!
How did you balance writing with homework and other school activities as a teenager? – For me, the key was to set a schedule and follow it. I always did my homework as soon as I got home from school and also during lunch, leaving me with time in the evening to write. Also, too many teens involve themselves in many more things than they can handle. I picked a few activities I really loved, including writing, and stuck with them!
Can you tell us about your work with FutureWord Publishing? Is that a full-time job now? How many novels do you edit (per week, month, etc.) How do you balance that work with writing novels? – Because I’m a full-time college student, editing with FutureWord is only a part-time job. Being a traditional publisher, they only accept a limited number of books each year. When they take on a new project in science fiction or fantasy, they send it over and I work on it. However, I am also now an illustrator with World Castle Publications (as you can see here:  
Do you ever get lost in the plot, lose faith in your story or get writer’s block? If so, how do you overcome these obstacles? – Yes. Goodness, yes. The single biggest writer’s block of my life came close to the end of my most recent manuscript. The whole story was a romantic comedy between a girl and a racer she thought she loved, but just as things were finally going to go right between them in the story, I lost faith in the racer’s real-world counterpart (Side-note: No, not my boyfriend. I don’t date. Just a person I thought was a really good friend.). And because I had based the racer off the real guy I knew, I couldn’t think about him the same way again. It killed the romance of the story for me. So I finally decided to switch gears and start illustrating to get my creative juices flowing again! Now, I am working on my second professional published novel as an illustrator.  
What do you think are your greatest strengths and weaknesses as a writer? – My strengths include my plots and characters—I’m not satisfied until the words on the page evoke living, breathing people with whom I can have conversations in my mind. On the other hand, that whole ‘insatiable’ bit can be a problem; I’m never satisfied with my work, and sometimes I find myself rewriting parts that are perfectly fine as they are.
Do you think the fact that your bilingual has had any impact on the type of language you use when you write? – It did initially. One of my biggest struggles in my earliest work, including somewhat in Dream Saver, was my lack of colloquialisms. My writing was very formal, mostly because English was my second language and I had to teach myself the idioms most Americans use easily in their speech. But I have improved recently . . . and maybe even gone a bit overboard in Zpeed (but, thankfully, that’s what editing is for)!
What would you say to other teens who dream of being a writer? What should they do? What should they know? How can they make it? – Stubbornness is the secret of success. As I mentioned earlier, I received over 250 rejection letters just for Dream Saver. Now, I’m a bestselling author and a professional illustrator. If I had given up, as many young people feel they should upon rejection, I would never have seen even a glimmer of success. I still have much to learn, but that’s the other secret. You have to move forward through life while keeping your mind open to learning and improving your craft. One of these days, you’ll break through.
Do you think it’s easier or harder for a teen author to be published – easier because you’re more of a novelty or harder because you’re not taken seriously? – Unfortunately, the latter. Many publishers I have contacted over the years refuse to even consider work by authors younger than eighteen for legal issues. However, it’s not impossible. I’m living proof!
What is the most common mistake that young writers make? – The single biggest recurring mistake is telling, not showing. This was a problem in my early work, too. Another is that young writers try to imitate the style of their favorite authors. The trick to being a true author is finding your unique voice.  Learn to write the way you speak and think.
What practical tip can you share with young writers? – Harsh as this might sound, if you plan to pursue a career in writing, always plan a second career to support yourself financially. Why is this sound advice? Even if your first or second novel sells well, and the truth is that very few actually do, it will be a while before you get your big break and can comfortably support yourself with only income earned from writing. That’s why I, in addition to writing, also edit at one publishing company and illustrate for another. Writing feeds your soul, but you also have to feed your pocketbook.   
What do you think of self-publishing versus traditional publishing? Which one would you recommend – and why? – This is a tricky question, and one I would need to write a book about to answer properly. The major difference between self-publishing and traditional publishing is how much time and money you are ready to invest in marketing your own book. With the self-publishing route, you will need to pay to have your book published—that means funding designing, editing, printing, advertising, and distribution. Self-publishing works best for people who are great at marketing themselves, whereas traditional publishers take care of everything for you. On the plus side of self-publishing, you have control over everything. A traditional publisher may accept your manuscript only to edit it down to an unrecognizable work. It also takes a lot longer to get published traditionally. Larger publishers often have a six-month delay period before even reviewing your manuscript, and then there’s a huge chance that the book will be rejected. And even if your manuscript is accepted, it’s about another year before the actual finished book is ready to be released. 
What are your favorite authors and books? – I have so many favorites that it’s really tough to pick. However, if I had to narrow down my list, I would definitely say Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, Angelique by Sergeanne Golon, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and anything by Sholem Aleichem. Pretty much, though, I love anything deeply emotional, psychological, or really funny!
What book do you wish you had written? – Have you ever heard of the Avatar: The Last Airbender television show series created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko? Yeah. I pretty much wish I had come up with that and wrote a book about it. And if you haven’t seen it yet, watch it. All sixty-one episodes. Best. Show. Ever.
What are you reading now? – MCAT review books. I am planning to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) this August, so the next few weeks are going to be nothing but reading up on physics, chemistry, and biology.  
What did you read as a child? – So far as English books are concerned, my most memorable reads are the entire Harry Potter saga and the Warriors series (yes, the one about the cats). However, I also read many amazing Russian books (that are, unfortunately, not translated into English yet). Perhaps I should make translation a future project?  

What kind of books would you like to write in the future? Do you think you might write in other genres too? – I think I’m going to work on middle grade and picture books for a while. I love, love drawing, and I want to improve the skills I more or less taught myself.
What are you working on now? – I’m actually co-authoring a middle grade novel with my sister at the moment, and we’re hoping to be done by the end of this summer! However, a huge chunk of my time is dedicated to studying for the MCAT (which I take this coming August) and volunteering at local hospitals. I am also leading free library seminars and writers’ workshops for children, teens, and adults all summer!
What are your future plans? – I hope to become a pediatric cardiologist and, of course, to continue to write and illustrate on an increasingly more professional basis. Oh, and I also want to invent a device that lets you have more than 24 hours in a day (anyone got a Time-Turner I can borrow?).

Pirates or ninjas? – Pirates.