CHAT WITH MARIA SAVVA

Maria Savva lives and works in London. She is a lawyer, although not currently practising law. She writes novels and short stories in multiple genres.

Time to chat with Maria!

What is your latest book?

My latest book is Haunted. It’s my fifth novel, a psychological thriller/paranormal suspense novel. I hadn’t written a novel this dark before, so it’s new territory for me, but it seems to be quite a popular one so far. At least three readers have told me that they’ve been unable to put it down and have read it in one sitting. That’s a massive compliment. I always envy people who can read so fast. I was moving more towards the paranormal genre with my novel, The Dream, which includes an element of time travel and also a ghost. If Haunted does prove to be popular, I may consider writing more dark fiction, although having said that, I promised myself I would write a happy novel next because Haunted was so difficult to write, emotionally.

Is it important for you to know the ending of a book before you write it? The title?

I never know the ending of a book until I get there. Even if I plan an ending, it never turns out that way. With Haunted, for example, I started off knowing I wanted to write a book about how crime affects innocent victims’ families, but also how it affects the perpetrator. I started off writing it intending to show three different crimes and have them linked in some way. The original title was 3 Crimes. I began writing Nigel’s story and it took on a life of its own. The story developed and became a novel.

As for the title, I go through three or four titles while I’m writing the book, and then reflect on the story at the end and pick a title that suits the finished story. Haunted was called Aftermath for a while, but I settled on Haunted because of the paranormal element and I think it fits.

Some writers edit excessively as they write; others wait until a novel is finished to do the bulk of the editing. How about you?

I usually (maybe because I am mad) write the first draft with a pen and paper. I then edit the story as I am typing it up on the computer. I go through at least 10 edits before I am happy with the finished product. I find on each reread there are things that jump out at you that you had completely missed on the previous reading. It’s so important for writers to make sure they read and reread the book until they are happy with it. You usually know when you are nearly finished editing when you look and feel like a zombie, and could quite happily throw your computer out of the window. Who said writing was easy?

Do you have any advice for first-time authors?

Heaps and heaps of advice. In fact I could probably write a book about it. In my 15 or so years as a writer I have made every mistake known to man. I could help authors avoid some of those. However, making mistakes is a good thing as it’s the only way you learn. The most important advice I can think of off the top of my head is DO NOT publish your book without getting it professionally edited. When you are starting out as an author you simply do not have the tools to edit the book yourself. Furthermore, it is much more difficult to spot errors in your own work than it is to spot it in the work of others.

Even after editing, make sure you have as many beta readers as possible, preferably people who will give you an honest opinion of the book.

Do you write anything besides novels? Care to share?

I write short stories, poems when I am inspired, and song lyrics. I have published a few short story collections, and some of my other short stories appear in the BestsellerBound Short Story Anthologies. I haven’t done much with my poetry, probably because I don’t see myself as knowledgeable enough about poetry and feel like a bit of a fraud. I did once enter a poem into a competition and never heard back, so I took this to mean I’m right about me being a crap poet. Who knows, I may find some more confidence later on and publish a few of them. As for the song lyrics, I’ve always written them with the intention of adding music to them at a later date, but have never done that either. Maybe because if I tried, it would shatter the illusion that I have of myself as a fantastic song writer, and would make me realise that I am not destined to be the next big thing in music. I always like to have an unrealistic dream to fall back on.

Were you “born to write” or did you discover your passion for writing later in life?

I was born to tell stories, you can ask my long-suffering younger sister about that. I used to keep her up until the middle of the night telling stories that I would make up. Reading was an addiction for me when I was young and due to this love of the written word, I always had a dream that I would one day write that bestselling novel. I wanted to emulate what my heroes had done. As a child, I used to watch films that were based on novels and fantasise about my own novels being made into films. Writing is now an addiction, and like any drug it’s a hard habit to break. I started writing my first novel in 1997, but before that I always wrote short stories, poems, song lyrics. My earliest writing would have been a comic series that I made up where my main character was a monster named Shag (that was long before the meaning of that word became a bit rude – or at least, I didn’t know it was rude). I used to draw pictures for the comic and write the stories. That was back in the ‘70s, unfortunately, I never kept any of those. When I was in my pre-teens and teens, I used to ‘write’ songs, although this was more me and my Casio organ, and me making up the lyrics as I went along. I wrote short stories at school and always enjoyed creative writing. I suppose I was bound to end up in some kind of job that involved the written word. I studied Law which involves a lot of reading.

If you were to write a non-fiction book, what might it be about?

Maybe I would write my memoirs. But I won’t do that until I’m at least in my sixties or older. I think it’s always good to have a lot of life experience under your belt before tackling writing an autobiography, unless it’s something written about a specific important event or something about you and your life that is different to other people’s lives. I quite like reading memoirs as I think we can learn a lot from each other, and unfortunately people don’t listen much to other people anymore because everyone has busy lives. Sitting down and reading an autobiography is like paying attention to one person and listening to what they have to say about what they’ve learned and experienced.

Having our work out there to be judged by strangers is often daunting for writers. Do you have any tips on handling a negative review?

I like author Darcia Helle’s tip best, she says: ‘Don’t read reviews’. I have heard that advice from others before as well, and you know, it makes a lot of sense. Reviews are after all one person’s opinion. Not everyone is going to like our writing, let’s face it, not everyone is going to like us as people. That’s life. I think the quandary is that reviews are needed in order for an author to gain a following – good and bad reviews- so we tend to obsess over them a bit too much. A tip for handling a negative review is to ignore it. I have a hard time with this but am finding it easier to restrain myself lately. Of course we love our books, but we need to take a step back. The worst thing an author can do is think that his or her own book is perfect. You need to be open to criticism; that is part of growing and becoming a better writer. I have always listened to every negative comment, and after crying for a few days I have asked myself how I can use that to make my next book even better. I will continue to do the same thing.

Writing is a learning process; I am learning new things every day. Contained in most negative reviews will be lovely gifts from the reviewer as to how we can improve ourselves as writers. If we ignore that we are doing ourselves a disservice. Remember, reviewers read a lot of books, other people will probably be thinking the same things about your book; don’t shoot the messenger. Sometimes you should take note of the things said in a review and use it to help you. Of course there are the nasty 1 star reviews written by nasty people. You can pretty much ignore those. Another tip is to go to your favourite author’s Amazon page and take a look at the reviews. There will be 1 star and 5 star reviews, which just proves that what some people love other people hate. I also heard recently that there is a saying that one third of the audience will hate you, one third will love you, and one third will be indifferent. So if you’re only attracting negative reviews, you just haven’t found your target audience yet. And remember, it’s impossible to please everyone, and no one should try to do that.

We all know the old saying; you can’t judge a book by its cover. This is true. However, how much importance do you place on your book cover design?

I actually think that with independently published books you can certainly judge how much effort has gone into a book by looking at the cover. If someone is passionate about their work they will take time to make sure that the cover is something that adequately reflects the book’s content. For example, I design my own covers and put a lot of effort into making sure that it is something I would like to look at, something that would attract me to the book. I often purchase a book based on the fact that I like the cover and for no other reason. Usually, if it’s a good cover, it’s also a good book. I suppose it’s a matter of personal taste. All art is subjective, but if the author has designed their own cover and you like that, chances are you are also going to like the book; they both come from the same artistic spring. I’ve noticed that most big name publishers don’t put a lot of effort into book covers; that’s probably because they know the book is going to sell due to the hype and adverts. As an artist, I appreciate that book covers are a great way to showcase art. I used my own art work for the covers of Haunted, Pieces of a Rainbow, and The Dream; those were inspired by the books. I also took the photograph that is now the cover of Coincidences (second edition). For my other books I have used photographs from Morguefile.com, and have used iPhoto to play around with the original photos and adjust them to suit the book. For example, the photo of the swan on my cover for Fusion was originally in colour, I think, and was not at an angle, but I played around with it to try to get the swan to look a bit more intimidating, as one of the stories is a bit of a horror story involving swans.

What’s your favorite comfort food? Least favorite food?

Favourite: Cheesecake or chocolate, or better still: chocolate cheesecake.

Least favourite: Broad beans

What music soothes your soul?

Heavy metal/rock. I remember once walking out of Metallica concert and saying that I wished life was a Metallica concert… I always get a great vibe when I’m at rock/heavy metal festivals and gigs.

What’s your favorite film of all times? Favorite book?

I have lots of favourite films and books, but if I had to choose one of each, it would be:

Favourite film: Shirley Valentine

Favourite book: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

What are three things you think we can all do to make the world a better place?

Listen more, be kind, smile more

Connect with Maria

Website

Twitter

Facebook

BestsellerBound

 

CHAT WITH SHYKIA BELL

Shykia Bell developed a love for writing at a very young age and often dreamed of authoring books, but her career took several turns before she penned her first sci-fi/fantasy novel, Camileon. She is presently working several projects, including the third installment of her Camileon series. Shykia currently resides in Brooklyn, New York with her husband Max, their cat and cockatiel.

Time to chat with Shykia!

What is your latest book?

Hi, Lisette. Congratulations on the launch of your brand new site and thank you so much for having me here at your lovely Writers’ Chateau! I’m thrilled to be your guest. My most recent novel is CAMILEON: Beyond The Veil. It’s the second in a series that chronicles the life of a young woman who wrestles with her identity and her past as she undertakes a harrowing task that could either help or hurt humanity in their fight against malevolent forces, both seen and unseen.

What do you think some of the greatest misconceptions about indie authors are?

That all indie authors are lazy, which couldn’t be further from the truth. If I recall correctly, Sue Grafton recently faced heat for making such an implication. The truth is, there are talented and not-so-talented authors on both sides of the literary spectrum, whether traditional or indie. Even so, indie authors often have to work alone in various aspects of the publishing process. Not only do they have to work on the book itself, they also have to figure out what their brand is and how to market themselves efficiently in this highly competitive industry. It can be downright overwhelming, particularly for those who dare to go against the tide by producing something different than what the current trends dictate.

How often do your characters surprise you by doing or saying something totally unexpected?

My characters surprise me quite often. For example, in CAMILEON: Beyond The Veil, there’s one character who I intended to be gentle and nurturing, but he turned out to be the polar opposite. It certainly made the story a lot more intriguing as the reasons for his nature unfolds. It actually scared me, how easy it was to write him, though some of his actions were tough to process.

Were you “born to write” or did you discover your passion for writing later in life?

A combination of both. I used to write a lot from elementary school through high school, but fell out of it during college. It wasn’t until years later that I rediscovered my passion for it. I’m so grateful that I did. It led me to meet some truly fascinating people.

Do you feel your latest book is your personal favorite or one of your previous novels?

My current novel is certainly my favorite for a number of reasons. It’s multi-faceted, and though it’s a sci-fi/fantasy novel, it contains situations that were inspired by some of the challenges I’ve had to overcome in reality. It was something I included subconsciously and I didn’t realize how truly connected I was to the characters until I saw fragments of my life in their experiences. That was actually kind of scary since I’m not the type of person who opens up so freely. For a while, I was apprehensive about publishing it, but figured by doing so I was somehow redeeming myself from some of my past mistakes.

Having our work out there to be judged by strangers is often daunting for writers. Do you have any tips on handling a negative review?

Negative reviews can be really tough to swallow, but in the end, everyone is entitled to their opinion. It’s impossible to put forth a product the entire world will like, because not everyone perceives art, or life, the same way. The best way to handle a negative review is not to dwell on it. If constructive criticism is given, you don’t necessarily have to take it, but you can give it some consideration if you feel it may help you grow. I’m always searching for ways to improve my craft and sometimes paying attention to reviews can be helpful in this regard. Yet, not everyone writes reviews with noble intentions. There are those who simply seek to tear others down by writing scathing reviews, in some cases without even having read the book. It can be tough to figure out the motive behind a negative review, especially if it is written in a non-specific manner, but rather than exert valuable time and energy worrying about it, my advice is for the writer to use those resources to write their next masterpiece.

We all know the old saying; you can’t judge a book by its cover. This is true. However, how much importance do you place on your book cover design?

I think presentation is extremely important. I’ve heard many readers state that an author’s lack of polish on their cover reflects the level of integrity they hold in their work. I’m not sure if that’s always a fair statement since there are people who care very much about their work, but simply lack the skills and/or resources necessary to put together a sharp-looking cover. I happened to be lucky; I used to work as a graphics coordinator and possessed the skills I needed to design my own cover. The photography, however, was done by my extremely talented friend.

A lot of authors are frustrated by readers who don’t understand how important reviews are. What would you say to a reader who doesn’t think his or her review matters?

Reader reviews are crucial since fellow readers look for an objective opinion on products before putting their hard-earned money behind it. Not only that, but authors truly want to hear their readers’ honest opinions; at least I know I do. Whether the opinion is favorable or justifiably critical, it shows that the author was successful in making some sort of connection. Isn’t that what we all want anyway; some form of connection that reminds writers that we’re not alone, that the reader also walks the path of our words once the book is finished?

What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?

That’s a tough one. There are so many wonderful gifts I’ve received and I’m not referring to the material sort. Other than the gift of life, the best gift I’ve ever received was a second chance to live my dream and to find true love.

What might we be surprised to know about you?

I never learned how to ride a bike. Embarrassing to admit, but it’s true. Don’t judge. It’s on my bucket list.

What are three things you think we can all do to make the world a better place?

1. Always keep an open mind. One of my mottos is a flexible mind isn’t easily broken. No one is right or wrong all the time and everyone, at some phase of their life or another, plays the role of student and teacher.

2. Find peace and happiness with yourself. Whether knowingly or not, we tend to project our unhappiness onto others, creating a terrible cycle of misery.

3. Be generous with your kindness and patience. It’s free and the more you give, the more comes back to you.

CONNECT WITH SHYKIA

Website

Twitter

Facebook

 

 

TWITTER: 10 REASONS I FOLLOW, DON’T FOLLOW BACK, or UNFOLLOW

I’ve been on Twitter for about three and a half years. I’ve met some of the most amazing, wonderful people there. As a writer, Twitter gives me superb access to interesting people all over the world.

A lot of people I know find Twitter very daunting, mostly because they’ve never really tried to use it. It can be intimidating to some to have only 140 characters to make a statement. But it works, and it works well. The more you do it, the more you’ll probably appreciate the way this micro-blogging site works.

Twitter can both be great or not-so-great depending on what you hope to get from it. I’m going to share with you the reasons I follow/follow back, don’t follow back, or unfollow.

WHY I WILL OR WON’T FOLLOW/FOLLOW BACK

1. I consider several things when deciding to follow or follow back. Does this person engage with others? If she is actively having conversations with other tweeters, I’m more inclined to like this person. For one, it shows that she realizes that there are other people on Twitter. And I’m much more inclined to like people who have a photo of themselves for an avatar.

2. There’s nothing wrong with promoting your own work in moderation, but I am a strong believer in cross-promotion. Does this person take a moment to recognize the works of others from time to time? To tweet content of interest?

3. Does the person’s follower/following ratio make any kind of sense? If someone follows me and I see that he is following well over 1,000 people, but only 132 people are following back, there is always a reason. A quick look will tell me that every tweet is virtually the same: they’re all about that person’s book, for example, or the tweets make little to no sense. If the person has 40,000 followers and is following only 2,000 back, I’m not going to assume that he’s found me to be a part of the scintillating minority. Rather, I’m going to think that he’s followed me to get the follow and will unfollow me soon after.

4. Did this person actually follow me or did a bot follow me? For example, I have a novel called Squalor, New Mexico that has nothing whatsoever to do with New Mexico, but often I’ll be followed by businesses such as a real estate company or an auto repair facility in Santa Fe. Nothing against these fine businesses, of course, but it’s clear how they found me and we likely are not tweeting about any common interests.

5. Does the person tweet original content or does she just quote? There are people on Twitter who do nothing but tweet the quotes of others. Once in a blue moon, if I see a great quote, I’m happy to pass it on, but in most cases I have little interest in following someone who merely tweets quotes.

WHY I UNFOLLOW

6. I know that I am not alone in my loathing of people who send DMs (direct messages) to strangers upon following with links to their products or services. Just don’t do it. Really, do NOT do this! If there’s one way to guarantee that I will never check out your book or product, just send me a link about it. To quote my friend author Stuart Ross McCallum, @writer99 on Twitter: “e-converse before e-commerce.”

Some people may ask: If I don’t send you a link, how will you ever know about my new novel, The Vampire and the Hound Dog Get Married? My answer: Engage with people on Twitter as you would in person. Join conversations, start conversations, pay attention to others, retweet what others have to say, be polite, and follow the golden rule. Once you do that, you’ll find that people will click on your bio because they like you. They’ll want to learn more about you. And what do you know, they may even download a copy of your book to their e-reader.

One woman, upon following, sent me a DM that said, “Enjoy the ABC series.” Hello? I only agreed to follow her on Twitter, but now she’s assuming I’m going to read all three books in her series? On what planet?

Then, there are those who send a message saying, “Don’t forget to ‘like’ my FB page?” Hey, I have no idea who you are. We’ve just met. Do NOT assume I’m going to support you at hello. Okay, so how can you ask people to ‘like’ your FB page without being obnoxious? Try a general tweet like this: “Would appreciate ‘likes’ on my FB page. Happy to reciprocate. Just DM or tweet me the link.” Isn’t that better? You’re asking for something but simultaneously offering to help others.

Upon following, I often get a DM saying, “Let’s keep in touch on Facebook, too.” But this person doesn’t want a mutual friendship; she wants you to “like” her page. I am not a fan of this deceitful practice.

7. I’ve just spoken about sending inappropriate direct messages to people. The same goes for tweeting links at people. Not only do people do this, but they do it to people who are not even following them. When I have a new blog, I tweet it to the general public. I do NOT tweet links AT people unless someone specifically asks me to do so. Tweeting links at people is, in a word, spam. There are exceptions when good friends tweet links to me; I have no issue in these cases.

8. I’m much more interested in interesting people than I am in numbers. Some fantastic people who have been on Twitter for a while, just happen to have high numbers of followers, very high, and they actually engage with as many as possible. It’s easy to figure out who cares and who doesn’t. Then there are those who merely want the numbers. They think that if they spend all day and night amassing 30K followers, they’ll be more likely to sell their product. As I see it, the number of followers has nothing to do with sales. YOU are the product first, and if people don’t care about you, they won’t care what you are selling. And, please, don’t boast about how many followers you have. It just tells me that you couldn’t care less about anything but a number.

9. Many people use certain sites to find out who is following back and who is not. I use these sites, too. I won’t necessarily unfollow people who aren’t following me back, but these sites do help me to clean up my lists. These sites often offer people the option to tweet out the IDs of those who have unfollowed them. Maybe it’s just me, but I find this to be very childish, like calling someone out on the playground. If people unfollow me, that’s okay. But I do not tweet about it. That’s just silly. And when I see people who do this, it’s just a turnoff to me.

10. Politics and religion: For many, these are two subjects to simply avoid. While I do choose not to tweet about either, I am very interested in and most appreciative of the political tweets of others. But tweeting politics is always risky. Many people who do not agree with you will unfollow you. And I am one of them. So, while it’s fine to tweet politics or religion, just understand that you will alienate some people. If you’re okay with that, go for it.

To sum it up, our experiences, good or bad, are what we make of them. Behind the avatars are real people who, like ourselves, deserve to be treated with respect. Enjoy your time tweeting, and I look forward to seeing you in my stream.

And please, tell me about your experiences with Twitter. What are the reasons that you follow, don’t follow, or unfollow?