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YA Author Rendezvous

Creativity Unleashed: Books for the young and the young at heart

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Author Spotlight: Gina Azzi

Young Adult Author Rendezvous Author: Gina AzziInterview by Michelle Lynn.

An interview with author Gina Azzi.

What are the titles of your work and can you tell us a bit about them?

Sure! My books are in the young adult and new adult genres. The first book I wrote is entitled Corner of Ocean and Bay. It’s a mature young adult novel that highlights the friendship of Nessa and Jacie during the summer before their senior year of high school. Primarily focusing on teen topics such as underage drinking, family issues, and first loves, the novel explores how Nessa and Jacie navigate these challenges and the impact certain situations have on their friendship.

After writing Corner of Ocean and Bay, I started working on The Senior Semester Series, a new adult and college romance series that follows four best friends as they embark on their senior year of college, new adventures, and love interests! The first book in the series, The Last First Game, focuses on Lila Avers as she completes a medical internship in California and meets football player Cade Wilkins at the airport! Their romance is a whirlwind but things grow complicated as Cade deals with the fallout of a sudden illness and Lila struggles to be there for him. The second book in the series, Kiss Me Goodnight in Rome, follows Mia Petrella to Italy and chronicles her romance with hot Italiano Lorenzo Barca. This book deals with body image issues, family financial concerns, and a looming long-distance relationship. The third book in the series, All the While, focuses on Maura Rodriguez and Zack Huntington and will release January 17, 2017. And the final book is Emma’s Story which is set to release next Spring.

Who’s your favorite character from your books?

Ah, what a tough question! I really like Lila a lot – I think she’s really laidback, fun, and easy to get along with. At the same time, she’s incredibly loyal, family-oriented, and genuine. I also really enjoyed writing Lorenzo’s character as he is rough around the edges, a bit arrogant, and pretty cocky before he falls for Mia.

In your book, The Last First Game, you tackle some pretty huge issues – namely cancer and sexual abuse. Is there a reason you chose to write about these massive topics?

In all of my books, I try to write about themes that are relatable and age-appropriate. The cancer element was really difficult to write about but it’s also something that most people can relate to – having known someone close to them that is struggling with an illness. How do they cope and handle these challenges? How does it change their relationship with this person? Sexual assault was a really important topic for me to include since statistics show that 1 in 5 women on college campuses experience sexual assault. That is mind boggling! It’s also a topic that is finally being covered in the media, discussed in politics, and receiving attention and education on college campuses. The Obama Administration launched the It’s on Us campaign in 2014 to combat sexual assault on college campuses. I think it’s a huge issue that deserves attention and awareness and I wanted to help do so through The Last First Game.

What advice would you give to someone writing about a topic that people tend to have very strong opinions on?

Be sensitive to the opinions of others, be factual in the information you provide, but never be afraid to write about something you believe in/believe deserves attention.

Amidst these big things that are happening to Lila and Cade, you manage to give them some normalcy as they fall in love and learn to rely on each other. Was this difficult?

It wasn’t that difficult since it’s very common for young people to experience a lot of challenges or things that bring them stress and pressure – and in the midst of all of that, still fall in love, form meaningful friendships, have these important relationships with other people. I think people are always dealing with things that are difficult for them but at the same time, trying to cultivate a support system is important, and connections with other people can’t be overlooked.

Were there alternate endings that you considered?

No! haha! I was pretty set on the ending of The Last First Game – I actually wrote it before I finished a good portion of the middle bit!

What authors have inspired you to write?

I’ve always loved reading – I was totally that kid that read under the covers by flashlight at night! Some of my favorite books growing up were Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Harry Potter – all of these books and more and so many talented authors have inspired me in different ways to write.

What age were you when you started writing?

Super young! I suppose about 7 or 8 – I used to write and illustrate stories to read to my friends!

Do you ever experience writer’s block?

Totally! Sometimes I have to take a step back from my work for several days and just do something completely unrelated before I can go back to it. Having that break from the story usually helps me look at the content with a fresh perspective.

Do you work with an outline, or just write?

A little of both. I usually make a general outline with major plot points, themes, scenes and then just free write from there. Most of the time, I begin without knowing the ending and at some point, I sort it out and then write the ending, sometimes before I finish how the story arrives at that conclusion.

Do you ever get sad when you realize that the characters that you’ve created aren’t real?

Haha not really – they’re real to me because they exist in my mind anyway!

Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?

It was totally trial and error. I went the self-publishing route as I liked the idea of having complete creative control. I did some research about how to go about the process and spoke with some other self-published authors. Through learning about their experiences – and reading a lot of blogs! – I learned about how to find an editor, a cover designer, a formatter. Little by little it fell into place. Something I love about the self-publishing route is it’s a constant state of learning – and that is pretty exciting by itself!

If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you would change?

No – mainly because I really enjoyed the learning process and feel like every step of my journey has gotten me to where I am today. It’s tough to skip steps and even the mistakes I’ve made have taught me a lesson. I think experiencing these lessons first-hand is really important for me in order to value what I do and to encourage me to keep writing.

Can you tell us about your upcoming book?

Sure! All the While is a new adult, college romance book releasing on January 17, 2017. Here’s the blurb:

Consumed with grief for her twin brother Adrian’s death, Maura Rodriguez is spinning out of control. To cope with Adrian’s loss, she numbs her pain with bottles of vodka and sex with random men.

Consumed with guilt for his best friend Adrian’s death, Zack Huntington is yearning for a past that no longer exists. Reaching out to the familiarity and comfort an ex-girlfriend offers, Zack aims to recreate what once was but can never be again.

When their worlds collide while running on the trails along Boathouse Row, Maura and Zack find comfort in each other and in the memory of their shared connection, Adrian.

From their unlikely friendship grows an undeniable attraction, an irrefutable desire, and an unexpected love. While Maura and Zack struggle to heal, to forgive, to accept, they also learn how to let go and allow themselves to fall in love, a truth they’ve both known but resisted all the while.

What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?

The toughest criticism has been that my characters lack depth. That’s hard to hear as I really want my characters to resonate with readers and if they’re not, then I have to try harder to create more layers for them. Another criticism is the lack of sexual content in my books – I tend to imply sexual encounters rather than write more graphic content. The best compliment is when people tell me how much they could relate to a character and understand his/her challenges, point of view, experiences. That makes me super happy!

Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?

Keep writing! If it’s something you love to do, keep it up – even if it’s for your own peace of mind!

Do you have any strange writing habits?

I’m not sure – I like to write at coffee houses and cafes with my Spotify playlists and a sweet treat! I feel like that sounds pretty boring though.

What others are saying about Gina Azzi:

“This book tackled some very serious issues and it did so with a cautiousness I appreciated. I think it was a true representation of what might happen to a very young, very new couple when faced with these issues. They were very human.”

“Her characters are well-drawn, realistic, and could be people that you actually know (or knew). Her stories are invariably sweet and romantic, stories written about love and all the highs and lows that go with it.”

Find Gina on Amazon

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Author Spotlight: Lili Mahoney

lili mahoney - authorInterview by Michelle Lynn.

An interview with Lili Mahoney.

Hey Lili! Thanks for doing this interview. We’re excited to share your wonderful book with our readers. What can you tell them about it?

My debut novel is Barefoot Pastures and is the first of four in the saga.  It’s a young adult novel about a Texas cowgirl who is finishing her senior year in high school and trying to figure out where she wants to go next.

Do you have a favorite character? I know, that’s like asking someone to choose which of their children they love more.

To pick just one is really hard. Does Rusty count? I mean I know he’s a horse, but he’s got such personality! Tory’s gang, as I like to call them, is made up of characters I love for different reasons.  Of course there is Megan, her best friend who counter balances Tory and is light and carefree.  I also love Dillon and the support and loyalty he shows.  But the twins are her pillars and comedy relief as well.  I guess if I had to pick just one that I always go to, it would be Tyler.  He just makes me laugh so much.

Tory works the rodeo circuit, something that I loved. I know nothing about it so I found that world fascinating. Do you have a lot of experience in that world?

I do and I don’t.  I wasn’t born on a farm or ranch, so compared to individuals who were, I’d so no.  They are the true cowboys and cowgirls.  Folks that live that life in order to survive.  However, I did start barrel racing when I was about 12 years old and continued throughout college.  Though it was a “hobby”, I worked my horse every single day, for hours and hours, and raced most weekends, all over the great state of Texas.  It’s a world that I feel truly at home in, the people and the animals are where my heart is.

When most people think about rodeos, they picture bull riding and the other big events portrayed by movies. But this book is about the horses and there’s something so pure about the bond between Lili and her horse. What is it about horses that you love so much?

Horses have a way about them that is hard to explain.  Besides the obvious, being huge and powerful, yet soft and furry, they are also magnificent creatures whose soul reaches something deep inside you and both calms and ignites a fire.  When you work with a horse, it’s a partnership built on trust and a drive to work hard, to give all of yourself to each other in order to accomplish the goal. A horse doesn’t know how to hold back. That is what I love.

Tory goes through a lot, yet remains strong and confident in herself. What are the keys to writing a character like this?

Tory has accomplished a lot in her young life and that builds a certain level of self-worth.  She is flawed though, and she knows it.  To create a character, a teenage girl that other teenage girls can relate to, is a challenge.  But to be honest, Tory really took on a life of her own.  She is loosely based on my daughter.  A strong-willed, independent, and feisty female who will not be held back by gender roles.  Sometimes that makes her annoying.  She can be too stubborn at times, but like all young females, she’s still learning and growing.  Tory is fighting to find out who she is deep inside, who she truly wants to be, and that is the key to her character.  I think we all continue on that journey of finding ourselves, or at least a version of ourselves that we like and are proud of.

Were there alternate endings that you considered?

Tory’s journey was written in one document and in about four months. It was only after the story was “purged” that I began learning about publishing, (ie. book length) and discovered that it would need to be broken up into four books, thus creating a saga.  So, the “ending” had to be a point along that journey that could sort of be a break, or a timeout so to speak.

What authors have inspired you to write?

It never crossed my mind, being a writer.  I wasn’t even a reader, honestly.  Reading takes work for me, being dyslexic, and it was not a pastime I enjoyed.  The way it happened is sort of strange, I have to admit.  Some fellow teachers who were reading the Twlight series talked me into reading the books (of course I was hooked) and as I was reading them, “Tory” began telling her story.  My daily thoughts became consumed with in inner dialogue and I simply had to write it down to get it out of my head. 

What age were you when you started writing?

In my 30’s

Do you ever experience writer’s block?

My stories don’t seem to develop that way, so no, I haven’t.

Do you work with an outline, or just write?

I just write and as I get it put down on paper, the story just progresses.

Do you ever get sad when you realize that the characters that you’ve created aren’t real?

What do you mean they aren’t real?

Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?

I tried traditional publishing first.  I had two agents that were interested in representing me, but insisted the book be shortened, by almost half, since I was an unknown writer.  They both said it would be hard to find someone to publish it because of the length.  After a lot of consideration, I just couldn’t change the story from the way it was written and proceeded to learn about Indie publishing. 

If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you would change?

There was a lot to learn, but I wouldn’t have done it any other way.  Except maybe to not be in a rush once I had the book polished and ready.  I should have done a bit more exploring about publishing companies and marketing.

Can you tell us about your upcoming book?

I have two books ready to be published, I just need the time to put into the marketing and release.  One is the continuation of Barefoot Pastures, and is Young Adult.  The other is Contemporary Romance that I will publish under another name.

What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?

I have been told that Tory is annoying, more than once.  And in a way, I already knew that.  She’s slightly flawed, but she’s growing and maturing.  Still, it hurts when someone doesn’t like your character.  It’s like someone saying they don’t like you or your friends. 

The thing I’ve heard more than once, and makes me the happiest about my book is when they stayed up all night reading, that they couldn’t put it down.  My favorite was someone telling me they called in sick to work so they could finish reading!  LOVE THAT.  I’m selfish that way.

Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?

I’m probably not the best to give advice since I just starting writing, and with no prior training.  But I think it’s important to do what you think you would be good at, what you dream of.  So learn all you can learn about that “craft”.  Research and research some more.  Then share your work with someone you trust will be honest with you.

Do you have any strange writing habits?

When I write I like to have headphones on to help me block out the things happening around me.  I like to snack, and not be interrupted until I get out what is currently playing in my head.  Which I guess isn’t very weird, but for me it’s a big thing.   (snacks vary between sweet and salty.  I love popcorn and reeses pieces mixed together)

Thanks for the chat Lili! For anyone considering reading about this crazy and complex world of rodeo and the pure, sweet bond between girl and horse, here are what others are saying.

“Tory’s awkwardness was cute and her brothers made her all the more endearing. They provided both the humor and a large part of the heart. The theme of family is very strong and I could fall in love with the story on that alone. “

“I would recommend this book as a great coming-of-age story about what it means to be a teenager. Whether you’re familiar with Texas or tending horses (both of which you’ll get a real education about in this story) or not, the familiar teenage themes will resonate with you whether you’re currently living your teen years or well past them.”

“Lili Mahoney does a great job at creating an introverted and socially insecure character and then allowing her to grow and blossom throughout the story. She paints a wonderful setting and I really enjoyed reading Barefoot Pastures.”


Miss last week’s post? Check it out here!

Are you a teenager or know a few who love to write? Our Flash fiction contest is now open. Find out how to enter to win some great prizes. Contest details.

YA Authors to Check Out

Sonya Sones Contemprary Young Adult BooksYA Authors to Check Out, by Beth Rodgers

I love reading young adult novels. There’s really no other way to say it. It’s a fact. Even though I have a special leaning toward contemporary novels, I have found that young adult genres such as fantasy, paranormal, and dystopian can fascinate me as well – albeit not quite as much. This is likely why I myself gravitate toward writing in the contemporary genre. It just rings truer and more realistically to me, and therefore, it is easier to write in that vein.

There are several contemporary young adult authors who stick out in my mind as the cream of the crop – but take note that despite my love of the genre, I have not read every book out there (I’m trying, though!), and therefore there must be more authors who will one day fall into this category for me. For now, I’d like to give you a sampling of some of my favorite contemporary YA authors.

Sonya Sones. My novel, ‘Freshman Fourteen,’ thanks Sones in the acknowledgments for being one of my inspirations for making writing seem so effortless and for helping me maintain my focus, energy, and love of writing through her words. She writes spectacular novels-in-verse that are not only fast and easy to read, but that connect readers through creative and metaphorical ways with words. Start with ‘What My Mother Doesn’t Know’ – it’s the one that pulled me in and got me so invested in finding and flying through the rest of her novels!

Meredith Zeitlin. I have only come to know of Zeitlin and her novels pretty recently, but she has quickly become one of my all-time favorite YA contemporary authors. She writes in much the same manner that I feel I do, with a female protagonist who is not quite sure of herself all the time, but finds strength in her convictions when necessary and finds herself in predicaments that are annoying to her, yet humorous to readers. Her writing is crisp and clear, and always has me eager to read more. Check out her novels, ‘Freshman Year & Other Unnatural Disasters’ and ‘Sophomore Year is Greek to Me’ – you’ll be hooked in no time!

Alyson Noel. I first found one of Noel’s books at a local library book sale. The title was ‘Kiss & Blog,’ and I thought it sounded right up my alley. Besides being a fast and fun read, it spurred my interest in reading more of her novels – I’ve read six of hers in total so far. She captures teen life in a way that has more sex, drugs, and other not-so-wholesome issues included, but she does so in a way that doesn’t detract from the innocent values that her main characters still find a way of exhibiting. Even though my novel, ‘Freshman Fourteen,’ is more wholesome overall, reading about the troubles and indecision of teens who are not so much like my main characters still resonates with me and allows me to think about how I might incorporate different values and lessons into my own writing.

YA Author Rendezvous (YAAR). This fabulously gifted group that I am lucky to be a part of (and whose website you are reading this blog post on) includes some of my favorite new authors. With genres ranging from contemporary to paranormal, dystopian, science fiction, fantasy, and mystery, there is something for everyone. I highly encourage you to pick up some of the books mentioned on this website. You won’t be sorry you did. They are compelling in so many ways – motivationally, metaphorically, and because all the novels by authors in this group are written with the reader in mind (I’m sure the other authors mentioned above do this as well!). As readers ourselves, we take pride in providing you with what you want, because it’s what we want too!

I hope this listing of authors gives you a basis of where to start. And please note that this list is not by any means all-inclusive. There are so, so, so many authors and books out there that are begging to be read that can easily fall into the category of greatness. However, knowing what you’re looking for and what/who you already like in terms of your favorite genre or writing style will help you figure out new potential reading interests that much quicker. Good luck and happy reading!


Miss last week’s post? Check it out here!

Are you a teenager or know a few who love to write? Our Flash fiction contest is now open. Find out how to enter to win some great prizes. Contest details.

What does ‘Young Adult’ mean?

What does Young Adult MeanWritten by Michelle Lynn

An age old question – you’ll get my pun in a moment – about the Young Adult genre has had people baffled for years. What does Young Adult mean? Does it describe the age of the readers? The age of the characters? Or something else entirely? The genre takes on many forms and different people describe it differently. Some people include middle grade fiction and even down to children’s fiction in this category. Others don’t.

I am one of the latter. I read a ton of YA books – dystopian, contemporary, paranormal – you name it. I also write YA – dystopian. I’m no expert. We all have our own way of looking at the genre. But I am opinionated – boy, am I opinionated. So, bear with me while I talk about what I think as if it’s fact (I tend to do that a lot).

In YA, the characters are young adults. There, simple enough for you? They’re teenagers or early twenty somethings. YA carries the stigma with it that it is literature for teenagers. Books like Twilight perpetuated the stereotype while books like The Hunger Games broke it. The HG brought us an uber-popular YA book that was now being read by all ages. I am twenty-seven which some people say is past the target for YA. Well, I say bull shit (pardon my French).

It may be a little strange when I’m crushing on these teenage boys (I have a habit of falling in love with the men of the books I read) and wanting to be friends with the strong female leads that YA seems to get right over every other genre, but I don’t care anymore.

If you are one of those people who refuse to read Young Adult books because they are “too young” for you, then I’m sorry. You are missing out. No other genre exhibits the heart and soul of YA. We get to see characters grow and change and become who they are meant to be. We see first loves and new experiences. We see people overcome all the odds to save the world – or even just save the ones they love.

Reading is like nothing else. It’s an amazing experience that lets you see the world differently. Reading YA is even better. It lets you feel the world differently.

My name is Michelle Lynn. I read Young Adult. I write Young Adult. I am not a Young Adult.

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