Interview with Catharine Bramkamp

This is the second in my series of interviews with authors of young adult novels. Many thanks to Catharine Bramkamp for sharing her wisdom and her exciting novel, Future Girls, with us.

Catharine Bramkamp, author. Photo by Deanne Fitzmaurice

Tell us a little about your novel, Future Girls.

Future Girls is about the dystopic future in California, 2145.
On October 10, 2145: eighteen-year-old Charity Northquest’s whole future is ahead of her–and the future sucks.
On October 11, 2145: she unexpectedly has a chance to fix it.

When her best friend Mirabella is reported killed, but then re-appears the next day as an old woman, everything Charity has been taught is called into question. Even if she does not believe in time travel, she has little choice. So the ill-prepared Charity travels back to the mysterious and captivating 21st century where her single purpose of changing the future fades with the increasingly more urgent question of whether she can survive the past.

What things in your life do you think led to your success as a writer?

Unrepentant curiosity and a voracious reading habit. I channeled most of my curiosity into academics, which helps. Oh, and picking up two English degrees helped convince my parents that I wasn’t wasting my time reading. I have a broad sense of curiosity now which is helped by all the curious people I associate with. Curiosity can manifest as my husband dragging me a few more yards on a hike just to see what’s around the corner, to a friend quizzing our waitress about her career goals. Most writers are readers – certifiable, difficult readers, in that we don’t care if the house is on fire, we are still in our book. My husband plans to carve “Go Away, I’m almost finished with my book” into my tomb stone. I can’t blame him. My favorite thing to do is disappear for hours into the well crafted world of a novel. My second favorite thing to do is disappear into my own fictional world.

How do you get the characters out of your head and onto the page without losing what makes them so interesting in your imagination?

My characters talk to me. They sometimes appear fully formed, like the heroine of the Real Estate Diva Mysteries. That character, Allison Little, did not stop talking for five books. She had to be satisfied that her story was told, completely, and she would NOT shut up until the fifth book was written to her satisfaction. Charity, the heroine of Future Girls, didn’t talk so much as appear, and it wasn’t until I finished the second Future Girls book – Future Gold – that Charity returned and demanded the rest of her story be told. And I am obliging her. She appears in Future Run, the third Future Girls book. So there they are, my bossy characters. The trick, or technique to keeping true to your characters and your imagination is to not discuss the characters out loud. I don’t share ideas with my friends (who are busy quizzing waitresses) or family (who are busy making me hike farther than I want). I write every morning before the day can distract me. In that quiet, I write down what my characters have to say.

You also write beautiful poetry. Do you prefer writing one or the other?

Thank you for that!

The poetry and prose balance each other out. So when I’m burned out writing prose, I turn to poetry. When I have more to say than can fit into a poem, I turn back to prose.

My first publication successes were with poetry. And I continue to work on the form. I am a binge writer. I work on a new novel during NaNoWriMo and then I write poetry like a mad woman in April, National Poetry Month (I write a poem a day for 30 days, some poems are good, most are bad). It’s “easy” to write the first draft for both poetry and prose, then editing and scrutiny is applied. The second and third drafts are the most difficult.

Where can we find your novel and other writings?

Most of my work is on Amazon. The first book in Allison Little adventures is Death Revokes the Offer. The first Future Girls book is, yes, Future Girls. My poetry collection is Ammonia Sunrise.

The whole list of books can be found on my web site:
And if you’re interested in writing and writing advice, listen to my podcast, Newbie Writers Podcast (iTunes)- we interview writers, poets and agents. My parter is a cranky Aussie, it’s quite fun.

Closeup half face portrait of girl


Interview with J.L. Jusaitis

I’m so excited to have J.L. Jusaitis for my first interview. This interview series focuses on Young Adult novels, and while Journey to Anderswelt is sometimes categorized as Middle Grade, it’s great for younger teens, and the sequel will move more into Young Adult territory. In Journey, an otherworldly adventure full of vibrant description and real, memorable characters, thirteen-year-old Lulu and her three friends must save the fragile environment of Salzburg, Austria. Amidst the mystery and the challenges, they discover their power to affect change, in themselves and in the world.

Journey to Anderswelt is full of adventure. Did adventures in your own life lead to your writing this book? Or did reading other adventurous books?

Both. As a child, I read lots of fairytales and classic fantasy. Also, The Bobsey Twins Mysteries, Nancy Drew, the Betsy/Tacey Lovelace series, the Adventures of Tarzan, were all adventures to me. The fact that it was an adventure in a haunted house or in some faraway land didn’t make any difference. Mysteries are adventure. Travel is adventure. Taking risks is adventure.

At ten years old, three friends and I had a secret adventure club. We took turns planning the adventures that consisted of activities like hikes in the back hills of our town, walking the railroad tracks to the next town, going ice skating, and exploring the giant sewer pipes. Our imaginations magnified every little happenstance of the “adventure”, which fueled the stories that came post adventure. We were legends in our own minds.

 How do you think your years of teaching helped you to understand teens, and what they like to read?

Much of my teaching was with middle grade students who like to read up in age. I encouraged them to explore different genres and discover books that spoke to them. I spent lots of time in the library with my students, in lit circles, and in writers’ workshop. They are always ready to tell you what they like and what they don’t like.

Later, I chaperoned teens on several European tours, and experienced, first hand, the challenges they met while finding their way in foreign places when they were clearly out of their comfort zones. Taking risks was part of their adventures. Some took books with them and at times I was surprised by their literary references in regards to their observations.

 In Journey to Anderswelt, and in the sequel that I’m currently working on, I used some actual occurrences and dialogue that I observed on those trips.

Do you have a favorite character in Journey to Anderswelt? Why or why not? What can we expect from the sequels?

My favorite character changes as the novel progresses.  In Journey to Anderswelt, I started out favoring Lulu, the POV. She’s independent, fiercely loyal to her friends, and brave when she needs to be. As the story progressed, I found that Chloe and Greg amused me. Now, in this sequel, Chloe has the POV and I’m loving her, but Greg is emerging as a real favorite. He has his own wacky brand of heroism. Morey has been relegated to the handsome, wise, reliable anchor. I think it’s sense of humor that wins me over, and I never know where that’s coming from. The characters’ personalities just seem to spring from them onto my page.

In this new book, the four travelers are older, in their mid-teens, and the subject matter is darker and more sophisticated. For that reason, I’m finding it hard to label it a MG or a YA.  It’s somewhere in between.

 What advice do you have for others writing young adult books?

You must have tenacity and patience. For me, it’s a long process, so it’s important that I love the characters and the setting. I have to live with them. So, choose something that intrigues you. Find a setting that is perfect for your story, a character or characters that will keep you interested, and check in regularly with your audience.

I’m not around my audience every day, like I once I was. So I make school visits as a volunteer or with my books, and find opportunities to talk with kids and eavesdrop on their conversations. They are my best critics and my best champions.

Early, while writing Journey, I had the luxury of a MG critique group. One 11 year old had trouble with “the authenticity of the dialogue” in the first chapter.  What a gift!

“So tell me. Help me!” I pled. And they did.

Journey to Anderswelt is available on Amazon.

Traditional or Self-publishing – My Liberating Decision

(Author’s note: This post may or may not have been written in a fit of anger.)

When I started writing five or so years ago, I was sure that self-publishing was for losers. But after meeting some fantastic writers who had, for many reasons, chosen self-publishing, I had to admit that I might be a little bit wrong, and that maybe self-publishing was at least a good way to start.

The dream, though, was always to be really published. Self-publish until the real publishers discovered me. Then I’d hit the big time, or at least look like I’d hit the big time. I had been to many a seminar where the speaker told us how poorly they’d been treated by the big publishers. Little to no marketing help, royalties used for marketing without the author’s knowledge, edits the author was not comfortable with…

But still, I wanted to look like I had hit the big time, even though I knew full well that the average first novel traditionally published makes an average of $6,000 for the author. That’s about $5,900 more than I’ve made self-publishing, so it still seemed like a dream to me.

Until tonight.

The other day, I read a great article about how to get more Twitter followers. It was all about engaging with others in your field. Simply, generously, regularly, and kindly. Great advice! So tonight I tried, and I failed. A famous woman in the industry tweeted some guy’s blog, and without knowing who he was or reading his blog closely, I made a comment about publishers, author websites, and SEO that showed I had no idea who the guy was. When he told me, a little condescendingly, that I had misunderstood him, I had an epiphany.

I do not need these people. I do not need them to build my website, I do not need them to tell me my book is great except that it needs a romance, I do not need them to write one more wisdom-from-on-high blog entry.

Right now, a small publisher is reading one of my young adult novels. If they accept it, I’ll be thrilled. We have a personal relationship that evolved naturally out of a writing contest I won, and I’m confident they’d treat me well. But if they don’t accept it, I’m done. I’m done trying to schmooze, conform, network*, in order to publish. I have already published, and it occurs to me that I could be spending my time selling my books instead of tailoring queries for specific people (I love dogs, too! bleh) and sending those queries into the ether trying to get someone else to sell my books for me (maybe) and take a cut.

It took me five years to understand what my writing group friends have tried to tell me all along. Maybe you’ll come to a different conclusion, but if you don’t – if you’re just getting started and five years from now you realize that you and your writing buddies are all you need – come back and tell me about your books. I will tell my friends about them. We are all we need.

*don’t get me started

Unicorn Jones and the Art of Shameless Self-Promotion

Self-published authors fight an internal battle daily. To plug or not to plug. That is the question. Their friends with normal day jobs aren’t using personal Facebook pages to sell anything, but those friends also don’t have to sell a certain number of books to be able to afford tires with actual tread on them.

So, even though author Unicorn Jones* made a fancy schmancy author page and asked her friends to “like” it, only about 20% of them did, and of those 20%, Facebook will only show about 20% of them each post, in hopes that Jones will pay to “boost” her post. Of course, Jones can’t afford that, because she didn’t sell any books last month.

And so, at the risk of Facebook deleting her personal account because she used it for business, and at the risk of annoying her friends, she shares her book, just once in a while, on her personal page.

Don’t hate her.

Once in a while, Jones gets invited to a party. She has recently stopped saying “nothing” when people ask her what she does. It was a big step. Now when people ask her what she does, she says, “I’m a writer.” And sometimes, she doesn’t wait for the person to ask what she writes. She needs new tires, so she just says, “Ihaveayoungadultnovelabout(whatever)it’savailableonAmazon.”

Don’t hate her. She needs new tires. The principal almost didn’t let her drive on a field trip last week.

So she’s still learning the art of self-promotion. She’s still trying to find the compromise between saying she does “nothing” and guilting everyone who makes eye contact with her into buying her books. Don’t stop inviting her to parties. Unicorn Jones just needs an income, and though she hates the self-promotion, she is trying to feel shameless.


*Not a real name

How is Anaheim Tales Like The Canterbury Tales?

When I tell people that Anaheim Tales is inspired by The Canterbury Tales, I feel like I have to do a little explaining. Anaheim Tales is not set in the 14th century, and none of it rhymes. The characters are teenagers instead of adults, and they aren’t strangers, but classmates. The book is not over 500 pages, and so far it’s not considered a classic.

What Anaheim Tales does take from The Canterbury Tales is the idea of a long journey, a story contest, and contestants who use their stories to malign other characters or the cliques they represent. And here and there, little hints of The Canterbury Tales are thrown in. For instance, the teacher’s name, Mr. Tabard.

While The Canterbury Tales is a classic, there are two aspects of it that I didn’t think would translate to the modern young adult reader. One, the lack of an obvious change in the main character. I only read The Canterbury Tales once before starting in on my book, and so I freely admit that the narrator may have undergone a change that I didn’t recognize, but I chose to increase the importance of the narrator’s inner journey. My narrator, Geoffrey (a nod to Chaucer,) spends the chapters between his friends’ stories contemplating his relationship with his friend Allison and his attitude toward girls in general. That is, when he’s not participating in the arguments that the storytellers provoke.

And two, The Canterbury Tales ends without a real ending. Scholars can’t even decide whether Chaucer meant for the book to end where it did. They think he may not have gotten to finish it. I gave Anaheim Tales what I hope is a satisfying ending, though people have told me that they wished it were longer. Little do they know, it started out even shorter! I originally ended it after the chapter titled “The Journalism Boy’s Tale.”

A less purposeful difference between the two books is the lesser quality of my writing. I’m not delusional. I don’t claim to have written “The Next Canterbury Tales.” However, I did try to keep in mind that these stories are the first draft stories of high schoolers. High schoolers are amazingly creative, but their first draft stories will not be perfect, and a small percentage of their stories might be downright bad. Geoffrey is a journalism student, and so the chapters between the stories, where Geoffrey narrates the students’ discussions, I held to slightly higher standards.

Feel free to ask me any other questions you have about the book. Thanks for reading!