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: Nicole Belanger

Writer Spotlight: Nicole Belanger

As a writer, feminist and creator of this here site, I’m excited every time I come across someone whose mission is all about lifting up other women and whose writing I so admire.

I’m not sure how exactly I came across today’s interviewee, although Twitter was likely involved. Nicole Belanger is a writer and public speaker who talks about feminism, perfectionism and grief with eloquence and candor. Once I began reading about her latest project, Conversations With Her, I knew I wanted to have a conversation with Nicole. Lucky for us all, she agreed, and she has some wise words to share.

Meet Nicole Belanger

Tell us about your latest project, Conversations With Her. Where did the idea come from, and how did you choose your interview subjects?

To be honest, I can’t quite remember how the format came into being, but the idea came to me out of the blue last spring. I was having yet another moment of being brought to my knees with gratitude for all the phenomenal women that I have had the pleasure of knowing so far in my life, and I thought, “I just want to shout from the rooftops about them, I just want everyone else to know how great they are.” So, without much of a plan, I sent a tweet to a woman (Kate McCombs) that I followed on Twitter whose work I had admired from a distance and asked her if she would be open to being the first interview in a series that I’m starting. Thankfully, she was excited about it!

The only criteria I have for choosing a subject (beyond identifying as female) is that I am drawn to her and her work—for whatever reason. Sometimes these are friends or people that I’ve known for a long time. Other times I’m approaching complete strangers on social media!

Why is telling women’s stories is so important? What do you hope will result from the project?

Stories in general have this magical healing quality to them. When we see ourselves reflected in a story, it is a powerful reminder that we are not alone. I want every woman to have that experience. That moment of, “Wow, me too, I guess I’m not the only one.” To do that, we need to collect and share as many narratives about women’s lived experiences as humanly possible.

Another piece of it is that stories have the power to tune us into possibilities within ourselves that we never realized were there. They can be an invitation to imagine new ways of living and being that we didn’t think were possible. That’s really exciting to me.

Who are some of the women and writers (and women writers!) you admire most?

The list is endless, so I’ll give you some favourites women writers of the moment: Lyz Lenz, Stacia L. Brown, Safy-Hallan Farah, Durga Chew-Bose, Alana Massey, to name a few!

Nicole Belanger: Conversations With Her

You call yourself a “recovering overachiever.” How has your definition of success changed since you’ve dropped your overachiever tendencies?

It’s ever-changing, but I’ve let go of titles in a big way, and I’ve also let go of any major “career planning.” Things happen in their own time, and I’ve found that all you ever really need to do is work hard, keep your heart/ears open for the guidance, the “pulls” that will tug you along in the right direction, and then follow them.

You write a lot about grief and have been very open about mourning your mother. Once you allowed yourself to experience the grief of losing her, what steps did you take toward recovering? What was most helpful for you?

Short answer to a long question? Being kind to myself. That was a fucking battle. Allowing myself to be sad and messy and not super fun to be around and slow and needy.

It was a long, gradual process of cracking myself open. Cracking the veneer or perfectionism and logic and intelligence and maturity and control and letting a tender, vulnerable version of myself come through—the self that needed healing and attention. I was so scared to let that self through. I was afraid that she wouldn’t fit into the life I had built for myself, the life that I loved.

So day by day, month by month (and, if we’re being honest, year by year), I cracked myself open. At first, it was through my therapist’s assigned daily 15 minutes of grieving—literally forcing myself to take 15 minutes to sit with my grief, that’s how buttoned up I was. Then it was things like reading Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, and letting that give me feelings. Then it was writing about it. Then it was talking about it with others.

It was such a long, gradual process that I’m not sure I could look back and point to some specific step or strategy that made a big difference, but huge credit goes to my supportive, patient, and understanding circle of loved ones.

Your newsletter Girl Gang Missives is so wonderfully curated. What do you love about the medium and the community you’re growing?

This is my desire to shout from the rooftop about how awesome women are coming through again! Honestly? It’s just fun. It’s exciting for me to learn about what women across industries and walks of life are doing, and it’s really satisfying to amplify their work using my TinyLetter. I love that it’s fun, casual, and informal—like I’m sending an interesting article to my cousin.

Also, it is positively thrilling when a woman sends her work in to me to be featured. We deserve to have our work recognized and celebrated and put in the hands of the biggest possible audience!

Do you have any writing rules, routines, or mantras?

To be totally honest, I don’t. It changes week by week and month by month. It’s really about listening to my body. Last month, I rented an office in a coworking space to grind out the last of the work on my first ebook. This month? I’ve been feeling like a slower pace is in order, so I’ll be working from home to allow myself more flexibility. It’s basically body’s choice.

What advice would you give to your teenage self on writing and pursuing a career?

I recently heard one of the greatest pieces of career advice, and although I’m not sure I would have been able to internalize it as a teenager (or even a few years ago), it would have been helpful:

“If you want to achieve your dreams, you must follow them, and the best way to follow them is not to think about wanting to be very rich, but to think about doing something that you really want to do.” – Jackie Collins

What are you reading right now, or what’s on your to-read list?

On my night table right now is Syd Field’s The Foundations of Screenwriting, because that’s something I’m planning to explore this year. I also just wrapped up Rupi Kaur’s utterly breathtaking collection of poems titled milk and honey. Up next? I’d like to read God Help The Child by Toni Morrison, Legacy by Waubgeshig Rice and more of Barbara Kingsolver’s novels.

What work are you most proud of? What kinds of projects would you like to pursue in the future?

Right now, I’m really, really proud of the fact that I’m about to self-publish my first ebook. It’s a special collection of Conversations With Her pieces on the theme of resilience. The seven women featured in the book are remarkable individuals with tremendously powerful stories. I know that they will make a lot of people feel less alone, and I can’t wait to put that love out into the world. It’s going to be amazing.

Now that the book is wrapping up, I definitely have an eye to the future and am spending quite a bit of time thinking about what I’d like to do next. Like I mentioned earlier in the interview, I’m feeling a real pull toward screenwriting, so I’m definitely planning on following that pull to find out what that’s all about. I’m also really feeling guided to create some content around women’s reproductive and sexual health—what exactly that will look like, I’m not sure. But it’s something that I know can make women (myself included) feel awfully alone, and you know by now that I can’t stand for that!

 

Thanks so much to Nicole for such thoughtful and insightful words. (Seriously, how awesome is she?!) If you enjoyed Nicole’s interview, be sure to let her know in the comments and follow her on Twitter. While you’re at it, sign up for the Girl Gang Missives newsletter.