Writer Spotlight: Estelle Maskame

Writer Spotlight: Estelle Maskame

I’m so excited to introduce yet another teen author in the Writer Spotlight series—this time, Estelle Maskame, the 18-year-old author of the Did I Mention I Love You? trilogy. Growing up in Scotland, Estelle began writing about teens in faraway cities when she was just 13 and finished her DIMILY trilogy three years later. Estelle’s writing has garnered more than 4 million hits on Wattpad, and she’s amassed a huge Twitter following to boot. The third installment of her trilogy will be out in January.

Meet Estelle Maskame

Tell us about your upbringing and how you got into writing.

To put it simply, I wasn’t really good at anything else while growing up. Most of the people I went to school with were in dance schools or taking gymnastic classes or were on a football team, so it took me a while to figure out what I was good at and what I enjoyed.

Once a week at school we were required to do “storywriting” where we were usually given a prompt and were asked to work from there, writing a page or two. I could never write enough. Writing those short stories at school were my favorite time of the week, and I couldn’t get enough of it, so I began writing at home. I’d spend hours on end in my room, typing away on my laptop, crafting together short stories which gradually turned to novels. I was twelve when I decided that I wanted to be an author, and I’ve never looked back.

Your books are set in several different cities. Have you been to those places before, or did you do research? Describe your process of establishing setting and making it realistic.

I’ve never stepped foot in any of the cities mentioned throughout the trilogy. The last time I was in the U.S. was when I was seven, so I didn’t have that much knowledge about the country as a whole other than what I’d read in books or watched on TV. I honestly can’t count how many hours I’ve spent in total researching these cities over the past four and-a-half years!

There are so many small details that need to be looked into, and I try to be as accurate as I possibly can be, so it takes a long time. After I’ve researched what I can by scrolling through Wikipedia, Google maps, weather history and so on, I usually talk to people who live in the city just to verify that everything is correct.

Do you have a writing routine or process? How do you avoid getting stuck or burned out?

I don’t do anything fancy. I don’t create a plan, but rather I just start writing and see where it takes me. Sometimes I totally hit a wall after I’ve been writing for too long or if I’m writing an important scene that I’m trying too hard to make perfect, and I find that just stepping away and taking a break does wonders for me. I end up coming back later with a clear head.

You’ve talked about the darker side of success in the form of cyber bullying. How do you deal with the trolls and keep the negativity from affecting you and your work?

It used to really get to me when I was younger, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve learned that those who want to tear others down are the ones who have the problem, not me. I’m the one who was working hard and having fun and had pride in my work and was actually achieving something worthwhile, while they were the ones spending their time focusing on my life rather than their own. They weren’t gaining anything from making me feel bad, because I only worked harder to prove them wrong. Now that I’ve got my book deal, I feel like telling them, “Look at me now.” And it’s fair to say that it’s all gone quiet over on their end!

Describe what it felt like seeing your books in print for the first time. What went through your mind?

It was honestly the most overwhelming feeling in the world. Seeing the books in stores for the first time was what hit me the hardest, because it was always something I had dreamed about which I never thought would happen. Walking into a store and picking up something I wrote will forever be insane to me.

Writer Spotlight: Estelle Maskame

What can readers expect in the third installment of DIMILY? What do you love most about your third book?

The third book is different in the way that it focuses a lot more on the family as a whole this time rather than mainly just Tyler, Eden and their friends like the first two installments. The third book is very complicated and intense, I think, and it’s definitely a bumpy ride, but I like the way every scene plays out.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

John Green, Jennifer Niven, Rainbow Rowell and Lauren Oliver are just some of my favorite authors!

Do you plan on being a career writer? Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I don’t tend to plan too far in advance into the future, mostly because things can change so easily, but ideally, yes. That would be another dream come true. And in ten years’ time, I like to think I’ll still be hunched over a laptop every day stringing sentences together. That would be nice.

What advice would you give to young writers?

I think a lot of young writers feel that their writing isn’t up to par or that they’re not taken seriously because they’re young. The most important thing when writing at this age is to keep on going, because this is when our writing is constantly changing and improving the most, so don’t worry if your writing isn’t yet up to the standard that you want it to be. I can’t even look back at the stories I wrote when I was 12 without cringing, but at the same time I’m proud of them because without writing them I would never have improved. Always be proud of what you write!

Young writers have the ability to write novels as unique and interesting as a person in their fifties could, so never think of your age as a setback, and don’t be afraid to get your work out there. I really do recommend posting online. It can seem terrifying to let strangers read your work, but on sites like Wattpad, people are never often negative. You’ll always find people who love your work and you never know who could be noticing it—a lot of writers get discovered online, and you could be one of them.

 

Thanks so much, Estelle, for stopping by, and congrats on the upcoming release of your latest book! If you enjoyed Estelle’s interview, please let her know in the comments, and don’t forget to follow her on Twitter.

 

ICYMI: Writer Spotlight on Anna Caltabiano

Writer Spotlight: Anna Caltabiano

Writer Spotlight: Anna Caltabiano

Today’s interviewee is a teen author with a massive social media following. Anna Caltabiano is the author of The Seventh Miss Hatfield, All That is Red and the forthcoming The Time of the Clockmaker. Anna self-published her first book at just 14 and now, at 18, is in college pursuing a medical degree. Here, she talks about writing as a practice, working with editors and how she hopes a career in medicine will affect her writing.

Meet Anna Caltabiano

I understand you started writing because of a bet you had with your dad. Can you give us the backstory on that?

It’s a bit of a strange story, actually. I’m an only child, and normally every summer my dad does what a lot of parents of only children do—sign their kid up for summer camp so they don’t spend their summer being a couch potato. One summer, to escape summer camp, I told my parents that I was going to write a novel. I loved to write short stories, and I had always meant to write a novel someday, so I decided that that was as good a time as any. Of course, my dad said what any parent in their right mind would say: “Yeah, right.” I ended up parking myself right in the middle of the dining room table all summer to write the first draft of what would later become my first novel, All That is Red.

Have you developed a writing routine over the years? And how have you balanced writing with school?

I try to write a little every day. Of course, that doesn’t always happen. But I think of writing as something you practice. You can’t automatically become “good” at it. It’s something you get better at just by the sheer number of hours you spend on it. And what’s the best way to practice something? Doing a little of it each day.

Many of my classmates spend hours practicing their sport or running through lines for their musical. Writing is my activity. It’s not the only think I like to do, but it’s something that I love that I want to spend time practicing. I’m in an eight-year medical program in school, so I’m looking forward to learning about people in different ways. What better way to learn about the ins and outs of people than through studying and practicing medicine? I think what I will see and learn could only improve my writing.

Which part of storytelling do you love the most? What is the most challenging part?

My personal favorite part of writing is creating the dialogue. That’s where the storytelling becomes real for me; when characters have real dialogue, they become real people.

The most challenging part for me is writing the middle of the novel. I always start with the end of the novel in mind. Then I come up with a suitable beginning, and work forward by writing from start to finish. The middle is a wide-open mystery. I need to work through the story from beginning to end to find out what happens to the characters just as the reader works from beginning to end.

Can you describe what the process of publishing your first book was like? What did you learn during that process of working with editors and publishers?

I think that the most important part about being published is that you get to work with a professional editor. Their job is taking books that authors like me write, going through them in detail, and recommending how we can make them better. How lucky am I to have two world-class editors (one in London with Hachette and one in New York with HarperCollins) giving me advice on improving my books. Editors are often worried about hurting the feeling or confidence of writers by critiquing their books. I look at it totally differently. I am truly grateful to have such great editors spend time on helping my writing.

What about before you got your publishing deal—did you face rejection? If so, how did you deal with it and push past it?

Writing is very personal; you put down your own thoughts and emotions on the page, so when you get a rejection, it can sting a little. But what does one “no” really mean? All it means was that it was one “no” out of the way on your path to getting that one “yes” that could mean everything.

How was writing your first book at 14 different from writing your third book at 17?

Aside from the circumstances of writing my first book, which I previously mentioned, writing my third book was not that different from my first. Yes, it helps to do some basic planning, but in the end you cannot spend too much time diagramming and preparing to write. You just need to get down to the writing. Put pen to paper—or these days, fingers to the keyboard. Write every day. Don’t worry about being a perfectionist when writing—save perfectionism for when you are editing.

Anna Caltabiano

You’ve got a huge social media following, especially on Twitter. How did you build that? How important has it been to have that platform as an author?

I wrote my first book on a very sensitive, rarely discussed topic—self-harm, specifically cutting. Being a young teenager, and writing an allegorical novel on this topic, gained me immediate attention. I appeared on TV, in newspapers, and in various magazines, which, in turn, seemed to enhance my online following. Interacting online is incredibly important for an author these days, since social media has replaced bookstores and newspaper book reviews as the primary way that authors communicate with potential readers.

Do you intend to be a career writer/novelist? What would you like your life to look like in 10 years?

I plan to write the rest of my life. However, to be the best possible writer, you also need to experience life. Now, I am going through the college process, full of excitement, wonder, stimulation, exhaustion, and stress. Everything I do professionally and personally, everyone I meet, affects my writing.

I am studying medicine at Brown University. I plan to build a career in medicine and the mental health field, but I will always share this profession with my writing. In fact, I am sure that my professional and writing worlds will enhance each other and make me both a better doctor and a better writer.

What advice would you give to a young writer?

It’s easy to want to make things perfect—to sit in front of your computer or pad of paper and stare at it until the perfect words come to mind to write down. Writing rarely works that way. Put something down and tell yourself that you can—no, you should—change it later. Not only are you allowed to edit your own writing, you should; it makes you a better writer. If you wait for inspiration or perfection, you’ll be waiting a long time, maybe forever.

 

Thanks, Anna, for your thoughtful responses! If you enjoyed Anna’s interview—or if you have any questions—let her know in the comments. Don’t forget to follow Anna on Twitter.

Writer Spotlight: Sofia Marie Gonzalez

Writer Spotlight: Sofia Marie Gonzalez

I’m so excited to introduce today’s interviewee: writer, actor and comedian Sofia Marie Gonzalez. Sofia is the creator of We Need To Talk, a comedy web series based on real-life breakups. You may recognize her from the viral BuzzFeed video, “If Latinos Said The Stuff White People Say.” (She’s also appeared on network television in shows like NBC’s Community!) Here, Sofia shares what it’s like to work and play in the world of comedy writing.

Meet Sofia Marie Gonzalez

Tell us a bit about your background, upbringing, and how you got into comedy.

The first part of my life was spent in the beautiful city of San Francisco. My father was elected to the board of supervisors and it was a very exciting time. I remember my mother and father catching up about their days at dinner and me and my siblings trying to get in on the conversation.

In school there were a lot of field trips to museums and live theater. I loved performance art from a very early age and started auditioning for the school plays right away. I’m so grateful my mom would help me with everything from my costumes to running lines.

When we moved to Sacramento there was a lot more celebration for sports and athleticism. I got to play soccer and basketball and learn the value of being a teammate. I was lucky to have fantastic teachers. My brother was a couple of grades above me and watched out for me. My sister began college at UC Santa Cruz and I remember getting to hear about all of the exciting things she was up to over the phone. I ended up attending UC Santa Cruz for college and majoring in politics.

When my brother Jaime and I released We Need to Talk, our friends from high school and college were the first to help us spread the word.

What was the impetus for We Need to Talk?

The truth is, I was busy with my one-woman show and my boyfriend at the time took me to a Starbucks to tell me he had gotten another girl pregnant. Now most people would have gotten up and stormed out, but I thought it was such a peculiar moment and I felt compelled to investigate.

The more questions I asked the more hilarious the specifics of the situation seemed. He met her at Applebee’s, he thought she was “hot or whatever” and he didn’t find it weird to answer a phone call from her while we were talking. My comedian friends encouraged me at the time to write it down and hyperbolize different aspects of the reality. Then when I looked back at other dating flops, I thought, Wait, maybe this is a fun theme to explore, when two people fire each other from their lives.

What (or who) else has influenced your work and passions?

Maya Rudolph on Saturday Night Live inspired me to follow my dreams. Her Pamela Bell character singing the National Anthem can still bring me to laughter to the point where tears are streaming out of my eyes from glee! It was important for me to see a woman shining and sharing her intelligence and talent. When I started my training at The Groundlings School of Comedy, I took a meeting with a manager by the name of Pam Thomas. She had represented Maya early in her career. I took it as a sign from the universe and Pam became my manager. Years later I got to meet Maya and tell her how much she inspired me. She was so gracious and kind. I hope she knows how much that meant to me.

How much time do you spend writing or editing material on any given day or week?

The days range for me with professional projects, but I write every day. I start the day journaling about what I want to achieve for the day. I am always writing things down on my phone whether it’s silly observations, a cool place to do a scene, or big ideas that I would love to explore. I think it’s important to carry a journal. If you love writing, you should treat it how you would a great romance! Lots of attention and excitement.

There are the days where I will avoid a deadline, but then when I start I think why the hell was I avoiding this? This is awesome!

What is your writing process like?

I chase feelings. I love to write when I’m feeling sad. It’s so dramatic and dark and later very funny. So I’ll feel hurt by a friend or boyfriend and then write the scene. Then I’ll go back and say okay how can I make this more fun? Where could they be having this conversation that would complicate the matter in a humorous way? Are they at a costume party? What details and specifics can I layer in while these characters hash this thing out?

Your work also involves a lot of collaboration with other writers, comics and actors. How does the collaborative process usually work?

Writers rooms are, to use an old lady slang, “da bomb.” I look forward to collaboration. Your idea can grow and get so much better. When I first started out I was very controlling of my work and didn’t want notes or suggestions. Then when I finally opened the door, I was so mad at myself for not being open to being collaborative sooner! Sometimes actors can make your written lines so much better, so give them a take or a chance to say it their way. If you truly don’t like it at least you gave them the respect as a collaborator to try. Also sometimes your ideas don’t have “legs,” and that is okay. It may just be a great one-liner and can be implemented in a different way.

Usually for a TV show you will pitch episode ideas. From there the group will discuss which ideas are the most exciting. Then the episodes get assigned to various writers. Then you regroup and punch up the script to make it better.

Describe the performance aspect of your work. How do you prepare for standup routines? What do you love most about them?

I usually write down things in my phone all the time that I think could be a “bit” or something to rave or rant about on stage. I am falling madly in love with stand-up comedy. I was lucky to join a class here in L.A. called Pretty Funny Women and then train privately with Jodi Miller. I am very lucky to perform consistently with awesome female comics. I am finding that revealing my fears and truth on stage is getting me bigger laughs than my observational humor.

What’s been your favorite project or gig so far, and why?

We Need to Talk was my favorite even though it was a lot of work to be wearing hats of writer, producer, actor and editing assistant! But I had so much fun working with the talent and the crew and of course my brother. I associate many happy memories with We Need to Talk. And I hope we get to do it again.

I also got to sit next to Chevy Chase one time in our make up chairs on NBC’s Community. And he was my favorite character in Three Amigos, so I get to brag about that!

With BuzzFeed I had the opportunity to make some social commentary with a video that received almost 5 million views, “If Latinos said the Stuff White People Say.” I am glad it resonated with so many people. Also I was part of the writer’s room for Fusion Comedy’s digital channel show SHADED and that was extremely rewarding to see our work come to life.

Comedy is still such a male-dominated arena. Have you faced sexism? How do you deal?

The truth is yes, it is there but I just say fuck that and keep moving. Yes, I have faced it and it was gross and awkward and awful. But then you just point it out to them in a clever way and you leave that B.S. in the dust. I’m cursing a lot in this answer aren’t I?

I have met amazing men in this business who have held my voice in high regard because I am a woman. I am proud to be a collaborator with men who are excited to work with women in comedy.

What’s your next plan? What’s your dream project?

I would love to write a feature film. I am also very excited for We Need to Talk to have a second life with other people’s stories.

What advice would you give to a young woman trying to make it as a comedian or comedy writer?

Do great work. I also advise finding community. There are so many great theaters, acting studios and excellent writing programs out here and if you hang around you will meet exciting, ambitious and lovely people. When you have great work to show people, the managers and agents will come. I am continuously working on making my reel and writing samples excellent and impressive.

Also have the most fun with your life and get inspiration from there.

 

Thank you Sofia for giving such an awesome behind-the-scenes look at the life of a comedian and writer. If you enjoyed Sofia’s interview, be sure to let her know in the comments and follow her on Twitter. Don’t forget to check out her series We Need To Talk.

Must Reads: For anyone who learned about love the hard way

Uses for Boys

I’ve always loved YA fiction. It is smart, it is complex, and it is heartbreaking. Uses for Boys is all three.

This page-turner took me less than two days to read, and in that time, I found myself hoping the protagonist, Anna, wouldn’t keep making the same mistakes over and over. But like a real human being, she does. With no father to speak of and a once-loving mom who now makes herself scarce, Anna is forced to navigate much of her childhood and teen years on her own. She seeks comfort in all the wrong places, mistaking sex for love and being punished for it as a result. Uses for Boys is a raw and real book that deals with abandonment and abuse, and it highlights the story of the kind of person society tends to shame by victim-blaming.

I did a Q&A with author Erica Lorraine Scheidt about some of the most important themes and moments from the book.

And her responses were so thoughtful that I’m really excited to share them with you now. Check out our Q&A below.

Erica Lorraine Scheidt

Uses for Boys author Erica Lorraine Scheidt (Photo by Marnie Webb)

WTH: Anna’s a tragic character who can’t seem to help but make the same mistakes over and over. Why was her story so important for you to tell?

ELS: I was writing into the question of how we make our way in the world. I started thinking about a teenage girl for whom sex was a salve to loneliness. And I was curious—why is it so easy for a girl to get sexual attention, but so difficult to get other kinds of attention? I thought, and I still think, that Anna’s story is important, because we are all lonely, we all have to learn how to be in the world. Anna just had to learn out loud, with little support or direction.

Some of the sex scenes are pretty detailed for a YA novel. How did you tread the line between being realistic and not romanticizing it too much?

I started out interested in what it meant that Anna learned about sex in the moment, from her partners, and not from frank, respectful conversations with caring adults. I was specifically interested in all the mistakes she made—and even when intimacy was surprising or tender or fun for Anna, it never occurred to me that it was romanticized. I think because because her experiences were also awkward or hurtful or confusing at times.

I did know, even when writing the earliest drafts, that the book was more explicit than many YA novels. But I feel strongly that we have to have safe ways to talk about sex and sexual situations—and fiction is one of those safe ways. We need to have more than fade to black and everything works out—because how do young men and women learn to navigate consent and pleasure without having some models for what works and what doesn’t work?

One thing I found interesting and refreshing about your book is how it depicts the abortion. While it is a fragile and challenging situation, the abortion is not nearly as dramatic or traumatic as it’s so often made out to be. It was a big moment in Anna’s life, but it wasn’t a defining moment. Did you take this approach on purpose, and if so, why?

I saw the abortion as one of the few times in Anna’s young life that adults were looking out for her physical and emotional wellbeing. And I loved the idea that Anna noticed these strong, caring women in the clinic and wondered what they had, why they were different than the other women in her life. I worked in an abortion clinic when I was 18, and I was so impressed by the women who worked there—kind, strong, generous, knowledgable women who were committed to serving others. It made a profound impression on me.

Anna’s mom’s absence throughout the book is such a presence, ironically. The whole time I was reading, I wanted to know how she justified spending so much time away from her daughter. What don’t readers know about her that you do?

I’m fascinated by villains. And the idea that the villain of your story can always justify his or her actions. Anna’s mom thought she was providing for her daughter by seeking financial security. I also suspect that Anna’s mom didn’t know how to make a different kind of home for Anna. I have a lot of hope for Anna, but I also have hope that her mom will change and grow.

Your website says you’re working on a new novel. Is there anything you can share about that?

Yes, only to say that it’s been difficult. And I won’t know until it’s finished, but the project seems to be taking a new turn and I’m very excited about it.

 

Thanks to Erica for sharing her thoughts and insight. Pick up a copy of Uses for Boys here or at your local bookstore. Follow Erica Lorraine Scheidt on Twitter here.