Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Young Explorer's Adventure Guides by Dreaming Robot Press

A friend of mine recently recommended the Young Explorer's Adventure Guides and I immediately fell in love with them. Not only are these stories chock full of excitement and adventure but each character is unique. Whether an alien, robot or human, this collection of short stories will take the reader to new places and inspire us all to remember that we each have our own story to tell. I asked the minds behind the Guides, Corie and Sean Weaver, to tell us more about them.

What inspired you to create a science fiction adventure anthology for middle grade readers?

Corie's friend, who happens to have the most amazing daughter anyone would ever hope to meet, was looking for sci fi books for younger readers with a strong female protagonist who's not out to be rescued or looking for romance. There was a depressing lack of titles that fit those two simple criteria. Corie, being the walking idea factory she is, woke up one morning and said, "We should start a publishing company." Not having had my first cup of coffee, I said, "Of course. That makes all the sense in the world." And so Dreaming Robot Press was born. The next morning, Corie woke up and said, "We should publish an anthology for middle grade readers." The previous day's coffee had long since worn off, and I hadn't gotten around to refilling for that day, so I said, "That, too, makes all the sense in the world. After all, we now own a publishing company." After publishing the first Young Explorer's Adventure Guide, we questioned the sanity of trying to publish an annual anthology
and wondered if there was going to be a second collection. 

Then the emails and letters started coming in from kids and their parents telling us how much they enjoyed the Guide. I'll be honest, both of us were in tears reading the notes from the kids. We decided there was no question, we'll continue to publish the Explorer's Guide until we're old and frail. 

How many books are there in the Young Explorer's Adventure Guides series?

We're publishing Volume Five in December. It's the best one yet. Until Volume Six, of course. 

Are there specific things you look for in a story when putting the Guides together?

It's a cliche, but we're looking for a great story. We want to have fun reading it. We want to be surprised. We really enjoy it when authors read our submission guidelines on our website.

How are you getting the word out about the Adventure Guides?

Each year, we run a Kickstarter campaign to launch the upcoming Explorer's Guide (look for it sometime late summer). Corie also appears on several con panels to talk about the importance of diversity and representation in science fiction and we run ads in various media. We're always so grateful to hear about the word getting out organically; readers enjoying the collection and telling their friends.  

Can you tell us about yourself?

Corie and I (Sean) both have backgrounds in publishing; Corie worked at a small publisher in Santa Fe, and I was in magazines and newspapers for a number of years in Colorado. We've been married for eight years and have five furry kids: two dogs and three cats. We live in a little town in northern New Mexico, Las Vegas, that is quite a bit different than the other more famous Las Vegas. When we're not wearing our secret-identity publisher's capes at night, we both work at a university to keep our real identities secret.

When you were growing up, were there specific authors who influenced you?

One of Corie's favorite writers was Nancy Cress, so we're delighted she has been in most of the anthologies and has been a strong believer in the Young Explorer's Guide mission. Corie says her list of authors is too long and would never fit in a standard interview (she is very seldom seen without a book in hand). My tastes were quite a bit different from Corie's. I read Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath in middle school, which started a love of American modernist literature (I didn't use the term American modernist literature in middle school - I was already picked on enough). 

Were there specific stories or characters that you related to?

I'm going to answer in a way a little different than the intent of your question. Corie and I feel strongly that all readers - girls, boys - from different cultures and backgrounds, of different abilities, carbon or silicone based, should be able to easily find stories where they can identify with the characters. More importantly, readers should be able to identify with characters who are not like them. Studies show people who read or attend the theater have a higher level of empathy than those who don't. We need girls and young people from underrepresented populations to believe they are an important part of our future, and we need young readers who are not part of these groups to believe everyone - everyone - should be able to dream, aspire and achieve. 

Dreaming Robot Press is a cool name! Is there a story behind that?

As a matter of fact, there is! I'll let Corie tell this story: When we started the publishing company, NASA lost contact with the Mars rover Pathfinder. I love the Mars rovers and get completely absorbed by them (Sean's note: she really, really does). So I told myself, “It’s just taking a nap.” In my head, the rovers have had engineers around them, talking to them and putting their thoughts and love into this creature, and then they go off on their missions, break down, and take long naps. What do rovers dream? If they were children, what would they want to read about? It’s not really a Philip K. Dick reference, but that was certainly in the back of our heads. And then we got the logo illustration, and it was exactly what we’d imagined. 

Dreaming Robot Press also publishes middle grade and young adult science fiction and fantasy novels. Can you tell us about them?

We have three books out right now, The Seventh Crow, where a mysterious crow helps fourteen-year-old Rosinda navigate a forgotten world filled with startling revelations, Demon Girl's Song, a young adult tale of Andín dal Rovi, who wants to escape her small town life. Instead of escape, she gets a thousand-year-old demon stuck in her head, and she loses everything – her home, her family and her country, and A Witch's Kitchen, a story of a young witch who can't do magic, but is an amazing cook. When Millie conjures chocolate sauce instead of a transformation potion, her mother gives up and sends her to the Enchanted Forest School, where she’s bullied by goblins, snubbed by an elf, and has her hat stolen. We have two more coming out this year, Twain's Treasure, where Alex April and his friend Bones are haunted into an adventure by the ghost of Mark Twain, and A Pixie's Promise, a sequel to A Witch's Kitchen, where Petunia, lost at home among her bazillion brothers, sisters, and cousins, must figure out how to change the formula to save the Enchanted Forest while living up to all the promises she’s made.

Any thoughts on the story telling world today?

The wonderful thing about stories is they are so ingrained in who we are as humans. Cave paintings from 40,000 years ago told a story. Homer told a story. Shakespeare told stories. Cress tells stories. Each and every one of us tells stories. Every day. The delivery of humanity's stories will continue to evolve through different media, but the core importance of story telling will never change. 

Any advice for aspiring writers?

Several years ago, I worked for a short stint as a studio manager for an artist. One day while we were working, I asked him, "What's the key to becoming a successful artist?" He didn't hesitate. "Stick around long enough to where people take you seriously." It was not the answer I expected, but there was a lot of truth to what he said. It's too easy to give up. Anyone who chooses to follow a creative passion puts herself or himself out to the world and is judged, criticized and rejected. Then they give up. DON'T GIVE UP!!!! If you have a passion for something, chase it. Live it. When you're knocked down, stand up and tell the world it hasn't seen the last of you. Note that you're not giving up. Here's some practical advice: 1) keep writing. It's amazing how many people we've met who call themselves writers but haven't put a single paragraph down on paper (or screen). Writing is a craft and must be developed. You're not going to pick up a guitar and be a rock star the same day. Practice. Every day. 2) Turn off the TV. It's nature's perfect time destroyer. 3) Join a crit group. Not just any crit group. Find a crit group that isn't afraid to tell you the truth (diplomatically, of course). Sure the truth hurts sometimes, but it will make you a better writer. Keep in mind your mother, father, relatives, and dogs are contractually obligated to tell you how wonderful you are (and you are wonderful). Find people who will really make you think about your writing. 4) When submitting, read the submission guidelines. Every publisher has them. They want you to read them. It gives you a leg up. And you don't look silly submitting something that has nothing to do with what the publisher wants to see. 5) Editors are your friends. They live to make your story the best it can be. 6) Be professional. It will help you get to that "stick around long enough to where people take you seriously" a lot more quickly. 

How can we find your books? 

They're on our website at Dreaming Robot Press , on Amazon and can be ordered from any bookstore.

That’s great! Thank you Sean and Corie. And to all life forms, silicone or carbon, or not yet discovered, be sure to check out the the Young Explorer's Adventure Guides!

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Rosco the Rascal with Author Shana Gorian

I am pleased to welcome middle grade author Shana Gorian and the amazing Rosco the Rascal! 

Can you tell us about yourself and your books? 

Shana Gorian
Thanks for having me on your blog, Mackenzie. I’m an author of an early middle grade series for 6-10 year-olds called Rosco the Rascal. I published the first book in this series in 2014 and I currently have four books out with another on the way this year. I write them so they’re all standalone books that can be read in any order. Each of them fits a different season of the year so I spend a lot of time marketing them each year as they become relevant again and again. But that is also, unfortunately, the main reason why I’m not writing them faster – I’m always marketing and it’s a full time job in and of itself!

The books involve a brother and sister duo, ages ten and seven, and their German shepherd, Rosco. Rosco is a mischief-maker – basically a fun-loving, overgrown puppy. But he is also very smart, loyal, and protective, and knows when he needs to stop goofing around so he can help out the kids.

The three of them are always either on some sort of real-life adventure together, facing danger or a personal, internal conflict, and Rosco always swoops in to save the day, or in many cases, swoops in and helps the kids save the day so they can sort it all out.

Both of the siblings are equally represented throughout the books, give or take, plot to plot, and each takes turns having a moment in the spotlight. Sometimes it’s Rosco who sets things in motion and sometimes it’s one of the kids. Regardless, I wrote them so they’d be books that both a boy and a girl would want to read.

I also try to make each book a bit different in terms of plot and not follow any sort of formula in terms of how problems are resolved, even though this is a series for young kids, and these types of series often follow formulaic plots.

So far, with only four books out, that has been possible, but I’m sure that at some point, if I write as many of these books as I intend to, (and I intend to write a lot of them!) I will have to repeat some of the conflict/resolution patterns, at least to some degree. But all of that remains to be seen. For now, I try to take a completely fresh approach with each plot.

Can you tell us more about Rosco? What inspired you to write about a dog?

Rosco is based on my own German shepherd in real-life, and in the books, the reader gets to see what he is thinking. He’s not a talking dog – he’s supposed to be a real dog, but he does understand human emotions and situations and language, for the most part, and knows what’s going on in the same way that people do. Here’s a good example of that concept from my latest book:

            A parade was something completely new to Rosco. Decked out in a shiny, new green bow tie, Rosco had been enjoying the attention of the parade-goers. He wagged his tail, tongue out, enjoying himself and grinning—until now. Now, he perked up his ears, listening closely to James and Mandy. He could hardly believe what he heard.
            His best little buddy and next-door neighbor, Sparks, the pug, was missing? Here, in this crowd of thousands, that charming little fellow was all by himself? He might get lost, or trampled, or stolen! No, this was not good.
            Rosco glanced around, hoping he could spot his pal. Maybe this was all just a mistake. Maybe Sparks, with his cheerful little smile, was somewhere nearby.
            But it wouldn’t be easy to spot him, since all of the dogs in the parade were dressed up for the holiday.

Excerpt from Chapter Four - Dogs On Parade, Rosco the Rascal at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade

The 'real' Rosco
Rosco, in ‘real life’ and in the books, is also a really funny dog. The real dog is always finding ways to tease us and outsmart us and get his way. Yet he’s also extremely sweet, loving and protective.

He’s very human-like in these ways, (like most dogs) so I’d always imagine him thinking just like people think. I started writing a book in which the title dog character understood the human characters as much as they understood each other, but still behaved like a real dog, barking, running off at the most inopportune moments, chasing squirrels, chewing up shoes.

The reaction from kids who read the books has been fantastic. I’m so thrilled that they love, love, love Rosco and wish they had a dog like that who went everywhere with them: a big, protective, hero of a best friend. And I think he also resonates well with kids because he’s not perfect. He’s flawed and makes mistakes, gets into trouble, breaks things accidentally, forgets his manners at times, behaves just like a child in many ways.

Check out more about Rosco at www.shanagorian.com

How long does it take to write a Rosco book?

It used to take me about 4 months to start and finish one book, from initial concept to publication. That’s how I managed to release three books in one calendar year once I really got started and understood the self-publishing process. But now, I look back on that and wonder how I’d ever do that again! Marketing the books takes so much time now that I generally shoot for about one book per year (two if I really try). They still only take me 3-6 months to write and have edited, have illustrated, have a cover designed for it, and have formatted, and then publish. But sprinkling that work in amongst the marketing of the other four books means the whole process is now spread out over a much longer period of time because selling them takes so much work.

Speaking of marketing and selling, how are you getting the word out about Rosco?

Sometimes I laugh when someone asks me that, because the question often feels to me like it should be ‘what aren’t you doing to get the word out about Rosco?’ This is because I feel like I’m doing soooooo much to try and get the word out about my books. It’s always number one on my mind after the health and welfare of my family, and it feels like there’s almost nothing I haven’t done or haven’t put on my to-do list in regard to marketing the books. (This is far from true, of course, but it certainly feels that way at times. For me, in this realm, it’s podcasting and video. I haven’t ventured into those realms yet with Rosco.)
Gorian presenting at Orange County Children's Books Festival
I am kind of an oddball of a writer because I love the marketing side of publishing. Most authors will tell you they really, really dislike marketing and speaking in public. Many feel like they’re selling their soul when they’re hawking their wares. But as an author of any genre, the former is extremely important because there are millions of books out there and a book won’t sell if no one’s calling attention to it. And for a children’s author, especially, the latter is really important. You’ve got to get your book in front of kids and you’ll have to face the fact that sometimes the best way to do that is to speak in schools and at libraries and at festivals. And I find that as long as you don’t cross the line, you won’t sound like a used car salesman, and people want to know what you have to offer.

For me, I think it works because I am half introvert, half extrovert. So I’m just as content to sit alone all day while my children are off to school, quietly sipping my coffee, penning the books, and communicating in the virtual world of the internet with friends and colleagues online, as I am standing behind a sales booth or reading to or speaking to a roomful of children.

I also use Amazon ads nearly year round, for one of my titles at a time depending on the season, and I’ve had great success with these ads. I host a blog where I feature other authors and talk about my own work. I’ve run ads in a print magazine and on popular reader sites, and I join lots of Facebook author groups to keep up with the latest trends in the publishing world. Some of these things work have certainly worked better than others, and some have been complete failures and wastes of time, effort, and money, but I’m always willing to pick myself up and get back on the horse.

New Rosco fans!
I know there are a lot of benefits to being traditionally published but I really love self-publishing now that I know how it all works, for several reasons. One, because I have complete control over my work and my business decisions as a whole, because, since it’s mine-all-mine, everything matters so much more to me, personally, than it could to anyone else, that I’ll give it my all, no matter what, and I don’t have to worry that I’ll be on any publisher’s back burner when I’m asking to be on the front burner. Two, because I get to keep a much greater portion of my royalties forever and ever, meaning, I’m creating something that could have a really long ‘shelf life’ or sales window. And three, because I can put out books at as fast a pace as I want to, not having to wait around on someone else’s schedule.

I may have forgotten to mention that I’m also bit of a control freak so self-publishing is kind of a dream come true :).

You are working on a screenplay adaptation for Rosco. Can you tell us more about that?

Yes! I just made the announcement recently and I’m really excited about it. The whole thing started because so many readers would tell me they could really picture my books as movies! So I decided to take a few months to learn the craft of screenwriting (only scratched the surface, as it turned out). I then wrote a screenplay for my first book, a fall-themed adventure through a corn maze called Rosco the Rascal Visits the Pumpkin Patch. But it wasn’t going anywhere, despite a few angles I tried working to get it noticed.

So I decided to have it evaluated by a Hollywood producer, through a company called Voyage Media, a company which is changing the game in Hollywood, basically by matching up ‘creators’ with production companies, and eliminating the need for an agent, which is next to impossible to get anymore, I’m told, as a writer, unless you’re already a household name. The producer I talked to, Aaron Mendelson, of the Air Bud movies franchise, said he thought the screenplay needed work largely in terms of craft, but he also thought it had great potential in terms of the bones of the story and a theme and so on and agreed the children’s market is very hungry right now. So I decided to partner with Voyage to make a market-ready screenplay adaptation of the book aimed at the Made for Video and Made for Streaming markets. I’m very excited about it as you can probably tell! You can read more about it here on my blog if you’re interested.
If you’d like to try out my series, you can get Rosco the Rascal Goes to Camp as a full ebook for free by joining my email list here

If your readers are interested, they can follow me on any of my social media pages:  

Thanks for the chance to be here, Mackenzie! It was fun talking with your readers!