Fearless Fridays: Angelica Jackson Proves She Can Write Songs, But Not Sing Them

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When I was a kid, I didn’t talk much. Seriously, at times I could go days and only say a handful of words. But I sang–a lot.

I wore out my Grease soundtrack on the record player, singing all the parts and dancing around. My brother took me to see Bugsy Malone in the movie theater (I know, I’m dating myself) and I learned every song by heart.

In school, choir was one of the few group activities that I enjoyed (the other one was spelling bees, where I discovered my excellent memory overrode my shyness). As I grew up, I kept singing, but never really had an outlet for improving my craft–no one else in my immediate family was terribly musical, so I just sang for the fun of it.

But when I started college, I took a musicianship class and fell in love with the structure and symmetry hidden in musical notation. So I was briefly listed as a music major as I took some classes (and in the process, was diagnosed with a visual learning disability that came to light when I struggled to read sheet music) before I moved on to other studies.

I continued to sing, but not much in public–realizing that I was never going to “make it big” took some of that drive away from me. Not the drive to sing, but the desire to sing as a performance. With the exception of long shifts at the bookstore where I worked, when I’d put on a Billie Holiday CD and sing my heart out while stocking the shelves, my husband and pets were the only ones who heard me sing much.

And it was fine with me, but over the years, I started to get uncomfortable about singing in front of other people. Until, that is, my voice went away–after a surgery that left me with a paralyzed vocal cord, I couldn’t speak above a whisper, let alone sing. And it surprised me how much I missed my voice, both speaking and singing. My speaking voice did come back, but my singing voice is unreliable at best, lol.

Sometimes I’m back in full soprano voice, and other times I sound like a lifelong smoker. But in that uncertainty about how my voice would sound, I discovered a benefit: without the ability to have control over my voice, all the pressure to be perfect went away. I could go back to a childlike enjoyment of singing just for the pleasure, and be just as pleasantly surprised as everyone else when it comes out nice, haha.

I find myself singing more often, even if other people can hear me. Even when I can’t hit those high notes, I don’t fear them the same way and just have a good laugh at it.

So if you laughed at my singing, don’t feel bad–you can see in the video that I’m holding back laughter too! I think I’ll stick to my day job of writing.

 

In keeping with her scattered Gemini nature, Angelica R. Jackson has far too many interests to list here. She has an obsession with creating more writing nooks in the home she shares with her husband, and two corpulent cats, in California’s Gold Country. Fortunately, the writing nooks serve for reading and cat cuddling too. Her debut novel, CROW’S REST, a darkly funny young adult urban fantasy, is coming from Spencer Hill Press in May 2015.

ALL FOUR KIDS: An Interview with Danielle Ellison, Author of Follow Me Through Darkness

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As a fitting post-Halloween followup, today we’re featuring Danielle Ellison’s dystopian novel, Follow Me Through Darkness, which came out on October 21st from Spencer Hill Press.

First, the book cover and blurb to whet your appetite:

FMTDThe truth won’t always set you free.

Less than a year ago, Neely Ambrose’s biggest worry was having the freedom to follow a path that wasn’t chosen for her.

Less than a year ago, she believed she could trust the Elders who said they had everyone’s best interest at heart and who said they were keeping them safe from the outside.

Sixty days ago, she discovered what they had planned for everyone she loved—and that all of it centered around her.

Now she’s on the run through a dangerous wasteland full of killing machines, secret organizations, and people who want to sell her back to the Elders for their own safety. The whole world outside the Compound is living proof that everything in Neely’s life was a lie manufactured by the Elders, which may even include the boy she loves.

All Neely wants is the truth, but each new piece of it drives her further from what she thought she knew. With only forty days until everyone she loves falls under the Elders’ mind control, Neely must decipher who to trust, what questions to ask, and how to get one step ahead of the Elders, who will do anything to keep their secrets buried.

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I don’t know about you, but that blurb really raises some intriguing questions I want answers to! For now, here are some interview questions with Danielle:

ARJ: It sounds like the format of Follow Me Through Darkness, with its flashbacks and contrast between the Compound and the outside, could be either a playground or a minefield for a writer. What were your favorite (or easiest) parts to write, and the most difficult?

DE: It was definitely not easy to master. I wrote and rewrote and revised this book eight times, and the flashbacks weren’t part of the story until a later revision. You’re absolutely right: flashbacks can be a minefield. Part of the difficulty, for me, was figuring out the placement of the flashbacks. You don’t want to reveal the wrong info in the wrong order, you have to be careful how much info you reveal in one section and for me, I had to have some relevance between where I placed them and what was happening in the present day. I’d definitely say that in this book those were the most difficult to write. The easiest parts to write were any scene with Xenith because he was a very clear character and is the most fun to write from day one.

ARJ: What writers and books influence you today, and how many of those would have been on Teen-You’s list?

DE: I really love Jennifer Donnelly, Laini Taylor, Nova Ren Suma, Courtney Summers, Beth Revis, and Cecelia Ahern. I did read Harry Potter as a teen, but teen-me was really into movies and plays, and not so much books. But I think she’d like all of them. 🙂

ARJ: Did you have a playlist you listened to while writing Follow Me Through Darkness? Or some other ritual that puts you right into the pages when you’re working on the series?

DE: I have a huge playlist for FOLLOW ME THROUGH DARKNESS. The story was darker and I had to pull myself into it, and that meant music. I worked on the book for two years before it sold and then two years after, so the playlist kept growing and growing. There’s a full list here: http://www.xpressoreads.com/2014/10/follow-me-through-darkness-playlist-giveaway.html

Now though, I can just enter the world with ease, which means so far there hasn’t been a playlist for the rest of the series.

ARJ: Lastly, as this community is fearless, we’d like to know something you are afraid of and something you are not afraid of.

DE: I’m not really afraid of anything normal. I really really HATE bugs and spiders, but I’m not afraid of them. I’m most afraid of failure, which is a ridiculous fear because there’s no way I will fail if I don’t quit. I’m not afraid of heights. (I don’t think.)

Thanks so much for the interview, Danielle–it was so much fun to interact with another Publisher Sister!

About Danielle:

d-ellison

Danielle Ellison is from a small town in West Virginia. She spent her childhood pretending to fly, talking to imaginary friends, and telling stories. She hasn’t changed much since then. You can still find her pretending to work, talking to imaginary characters, and writing stories.

When she’s not writing, Danielle is probably drinking coffee, fighting her nomadic urges, watching too much TV, or dreaming of the day when she can be British. She is the author of five upcoming novels and you can find her on twitter @DanielleEWrites.

In keeping with her scattered Gemini nature, Angelica R. Jackson has far too many interests to list here. She has an obsession with creating more writing nooks in the home she shares with her husband, and two corpulent cats, in California’s Gold Country. Fortunately, the writing nooks serve for reading and cat cuddling too. Her debut novel, CROW’S REST, a darkly funny young adult urban fantasy, is coming from Spencer Hill Press in May 2015.

ALL FOUR KIDS: AN INTERVIEW WITH HEIDI SCHULZ, AUTHOR OF HOOK’S REVENGE

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In the latest installment of our OneFourKidLit interview series, we’re checking in with author Heidi Schulz on her debut, Hook’s Revenge:

HOOK'S REVENGE cover

Twelve-year-old Jocelyn dreams of becoming every bit as daring as her infamous father, Captain James Hook. Her grandfather, on the other hand, intends to see her starched and pressed into a fine society lady. When she’s sent to Miss Eliza Crumb-Biddlecomb’s Finishing School for Young Ladies, Jocelyn’s hopes of following in her father’s fearsome footsteps are lost in a heap of dance lessons, white gloves, and way too much pink.

So when Jocelyn receives a letter from her father challenging her to avenge his untimely demise at the jaws of the Neverland crocodile, she doesn’t hesitate-here at last is the adventure she has been waiting for. But Jocelyn finds that being a pirate is a bit more difficult than she’d bargained for. As if attempting to defeat the Neverland’s most fearsome beast isn’t enough to deal with, she’s tasked with captaining a crew of woefully untrained pirates, outwitting cannibals wild for English cuisine, and rescuing her best friend from a certain pack of lost children, not to mention that pesky Peter Pan who keeps barging in uninvited.

The crocodile’s clock is always ticking in Heidi Schulz’s debut novel, a story told by an irascible narrator who is both dazzlingly witty and sharp as a sword. Will Jocelyn find the courage to beat the incessant monster before time runs out?

Powell’s | IndieBound | Barnes and Noble | Amazon
Add Hook’s Revenge to your Goodread’s shelves.

 

ARJ: I have to say that you have one of the most fun bios I’ve seen in a long time, Heidi, and that same lively voice and spark come through on the pages of Hook’s Revenge in the character of Jocelyn.

What inspired you to write “what comes next” in the aftermath of Captain Hook’s death, and to discover his daughter was a crucial part of that?

HS: Thank you! That’s so kind of you to say.

Peter Pan was my daughter’s imaginary friend and alter-ego when she was very young. I loved that. I painted fairies and Peter Pan’s shadow on the walls of her bedroom. We fought imaginary pirates with plastic swords, made fairy houses, and pretended to fly off to Neverland at the drop of a hat. I feel like I had been fairly well steeped in the story for a long time before the idea for Hook’s Revenge came to me.

One day, when my daughter was five or six, I had the flu. I entertained her with DVDs of Hook and the 2003 Peter Pan while I slept on the couch. When I woke up, I thought: What if Captain Hook had a daughter?

Hook’s Revenge grew from that question.

 

ARJ: Peter Pan is obviously a story which stayed with you into adulthood–which other authors and books influenced you as a child? And which ones as an author?

HS: I remember practically devouring wonderful books by Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, Betty MacDonald, Shel Silverstein, and Roald Dahl. I also read a lot of classics in elementary school. Heidi (of course), A Little Princess, and Little Women in particular have stuck with me.

However, I tend to extremes in many areas of my life and childhood reading was no exception. I still remember the day I turned in Little Women to my elementary school library. That afternoon on my walk home, I stopped by the corner store for a snack. Instead, I spent my allowance my first Stephen King paperback. The next several years were a far cry from Louisa May Alcott as I read every Stephen King and V.C. Andrews book I could get my hands on.

I look back now and wonder what my parents would have said if they had realized what I was reading. I mean after they recovered from the shock.

I think one of my biggest influences as an author has to be Roald Dahl. He never spoke down to his audience. He understood that what kids like may not be what adults think they should like. I love that about his books. I certainly aspire to write for kids and to kids in the same way.

 

ARJ: Can you share a little bit about your writing journey for Hook’s Revenge? I understand it sold at auction, and that must have been exciting and nervewracking for all involved.

HS: Sure! As I mentioned, I had the idea for this book when my daughter was five or six. She will be turning fourteen next month so things certainly didn’t happen all at once. I wrote bits and pieces on occasion, just for fun, but it wasn’t until early in 2012 I felt I was ready to get serious about finishing it and seeking publication.

At that time, I had little more than a rough draft, but I went to work revising and polishing the best I could. I shared with a couple friends and incorporated their feedback. I also tried to learn as much about the business of publishing as I possibly could. I read blogs, followed industry processionals on twitter, joined SCBWI, and attended my first writing conference. In October of that year I signed with my agent, Brooks Sherman.

Brooks is an editorial agent and his feedback really helped prepare my manuscript to go on submission. After working together on revisions, Brooks sent Hook’s Revenge to editors the first week of December.

I did my best to put it out of my mind. I went on vacation with my family, came home, and got caught up in the Christmas season. I don’t mean to say I wasn’t nervous, but for me, being on sub was far easier than querying. I felt like I had done everything I could and that I could let go a little.

We got our first offer toward the middle of January and I was thrilled. Hook’s Revenge would be a real book! The next week we got a second offer and I learned my book would go to auction. I couldn’t believe it. It seemed too incredible to be true. Then Brooks notified all the editors that still had my manuscript and three more expressed interest.

I spoke to all five editors on the phone over the next week. Among other things, we talked about editorial vision and process. I was impressed by each one of those women. They were smart and had such great ideas for my book. I could have worked with any of them, but for a story set in the world of Peter Pan, I was really hoping to find a home with Disney•Hyperion. I wasn’t sure how many of the editors would end up offering, but I knew which one I had my fingers crossed tightest for.

The day of the auction came and I was shocked again when all five editors offered! It was really quite overwhelming. After negotiations, there was a clear stand out. I agreed to Disney·Hyperion’s publication offer on February 5, 2013—the 60th anniversary of Disney’s Peter Pan. It felt like it was meant to be.

 

ARJ: Without being too spoilery, what do you consider to be the takeaway themes for Hook’s Revenge? I have my own ideas of what they might be, but I’m always curious if I think they’re the same as the author’s.

HS: You know, it’s funny. I didn’t start writing with themes in mind. They emerged, often to my surprise, as I wrote and revised. I think, at its heart, Hook’s Revenge is about finding out who you are and what you can accomplish based on your own strengths. It’s about not being afraid to do things your own way, even if it means making mistakes. It’s about learning to believe in yourself, even if—especially if—everyone else seems to think you’ll fail.

It’s also about how cats are awful.

 

ARJ: Lastly, as this community is fearless, we’d like to know something you are afraid of and something you are not afraid of.

HS: Well, it’s no secret that I am both suspicious of and nervous around giraffes, but I was recently surprised at just how much I’m actually afraid of them. A few weeks ago, my family convinced me to have an up close encounter with one at a local wildlife safari place. I was on the back of a flatbed truck, pressed against the far side of the railing, sweating profusely and giggling hysterically as a giant giraffe ate lettuce from my hand. Here is a photo. It was far scarier than I expected it to be. I don’t think I will repeat the experience.

I am not afraid of speaking in public. I do get nervous, but it’s more of an energized feeling.

I am aware that neither of those emotions is normal. I’m rather odd, aren’t I?

 

Heidi Schulz is a writer, reader, and giraffe suspicioner. She lives in Salem, Oregon with her husband, co-captaining a crew made of their teen daughter, a terrible little dog, and five irascible chickens. Her debut novel for middle grade readers, HOOK’S REVENGE, will be published by Disney•Hyperion on September 16, 2014. A sequel, HOOK’S REVENGE: THE PIRATE CODE, will follow in fall 2015. Bloomsbury Kids will publish her picture book debut, GIRAFFES RUIN EVERYTHING, in 2016.

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In keeping with her scattered Gemini nature, Angelica R. Jackson has far too many interests to list here. She has an obsession with creating more writing nooks in the home she shares with her husband, and two corpulent cats, in California’s Gold Country. Fortunately, the writing nooks serve for reading and cat cuddling too. Her debut novel, CROW’S REST, a darkly funny young adult urban fantasy, is coming from Spencer Hill Press in May 2015.