Writing about “Teens with lives of consequence”–Meet author Liz Coley

Thanks to the fabulous Liz Coley for being with us today. First, would you tell us a bit about yourself? What area of the country do you live in, do you have a family, pets, etc. Are you a coffee fiend, or do you have another “addiction” you must have on your desk at all times? What’s your education, if it’s relevant to your writing, and how does that education help you/or do you find that you can write well even without the diploma others might think they must have?

 I live in Ohio, which seems to be teeming with writers. My family includes my husband, who keeps the roof over our heads, two sons far away in college, and my teenaged daughter Kate, who keeps me honest in my writing for the YA audience. Yeesha, the Westie, resembles a slightly dirty mop and snores a lot. Tiger, the white and orange tabby, comes and goes at will, bestowing white hair with abandon.

 My first love is science fiction, which I began reading at nine and began writing at thirty-nine. I started out writing sci-fi short stories for the magazine market (before the internet really got rolling) and young adult novels for print (before they invented ebooks). However, stories have their own will to live, so I’ve found myself writing more general speculative fiction and contemporary dark YA lately.

 My educational background is in biochemistry, which broadly covers physics, chemistry, and biology. When doing research on the science part of science fiction, I’m not flummoxed by concepts or terminology, and I’ve discovered a decent ability to bring the ideas into layman’s terms to make them accessible (and hopefully even interesting) to the reader.

 Coffee. Yes, please. I always start scene writing with a latte at my elbow.

 Tell us about your most recent publication/whichever book you’d like to talk about today? What inspired you to write this story? What interesting thing did you learn or research to write it that you didn’t know before?

 Out of Xibalbaa December 21, 2012 novel

 In college, I took a number of anthropology classes, my favorite of which was “Ancient Mesoamerican Cultures.” I’ve been fascinated by the Olmec, Toltec, Maya, and Aztec ever since. In 2007, my husband decided the family vacation should be in Belize, home of the ancient (and present day) Mayan people. It was a magical trip, to be sure. On a night tour to observe tree frogs, poisonous caterpillars, and other creatures of the night, our guide pointed out the full moon and mentioned the name of the Mayan goddess Ix Chel (pronounced ishell). In that precise moment, I knew I would write a story about a teenaged girl named Michelle who is thrown back to the time of the Mayan empire and mistaken for the moon goddess.

 Out of Xibalba really did jump into my imagination, full grown in a flash, and it became my NaNoWriMo novel for 2007. I spent the prior summer refreshing and expanding my knowledge of the Mayan culture, reading 7 scholarly books.

 During the writing process, I was blown away to discover internet sites that could give me Mayan glyph translations with pronunciation, sunrises and sunsets and moon phase for any date in history at any location, eclipse dates and ranges, and the orbit of Venus. I took great care to reconcile my timeline and the dates I used with the reformation from the older Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar. The changeover occurred on the day that should have been October 5, 1582, when the calendar was revised to October 15, 1582.  The ten dates October 5-14, 1582 simply do not exist in our calendar.

 By the time this time travel/romance/alternate history novel was finished, I had garnered representation for another novel, and my agents didn’t feel it was in my best interests to take Xibalba out to the broader market at that point. When I saw 2012 growing larger in the headlights, I realized that it was time to plunge into the world of self-publishing to get it out there (before the world ends, of course).

 How would you best describe your books?

My books feature teenagers living lives of consequence. They may be ordinary kids at the beginning, but their decisions, their courage, and their compassion impact not only themselves, but others. They aren’t strictly speaking heroes, but they change the world. My books have been described by others as cinemagraphic, that is, vivid and easy to picture, like a movie running in your imagination. I like that.

 What is your favorite genre to write? To read?

 It’s still science fiction, though I am a fan of Georgette Heyer when I need my Regency romance fix, and Janet Evanovich when I need to giggle.

What would you write if you could do write anything you wanted to write?

 Something that would live and carry its message forward forever, like To Kill a Mockingbird.

 What do you most like about writing? Least like?

 I like the flow, the immersion when everything is going perfectly. I love feeling my breath and pulse in sync with my character’s.

 The downside is that writing makes me a much more critical reader, and it’s harder now to find something so wonderful that I can lose myself and my inner editor when I am reading.

 Do you belong to any writing groups? Are there any writing websites you find particularly useful? Do you belong to a critique group? What do you find most valuable about the experience?

 I belong to the Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. The deal is that you critique four stories or chapters for every one you post. I’ve met so many wonderful people through the “crit 4 crit” etiquette, people who have gone on to get agents and publish, people in other countries. I also belong to the Society for Children’s Writers and Illustrators, which has connected me with other writers during regional annual conferences. My annual genre meeting, Context (in Columbus, OH) is friendly and craft-oriented. No one wears Klingon costumes–we’re serious about reading and writing. So, now I have several author friends who are steps above me on the rungs and several who are steps below me. The chain of hand-holding is very supportive.


Tell us a little about your path to publication. How many books have you published? How many books did you write before selling one?

In the short story market, I began writing and  seriously submitting in 1998. My first acceptances came in 2009. I have 6 shorts now bought, four of which are published.

Since 2002, I’ve written eight complete novels. My third one garnered me an agent, though it hasn’t yet sold. My fourth is the one I have self-published. My seventh was just purchased by HarperCollins. Woot.

How did you find a publisher? How did you receive the Call?

Forty-two queries led me to my agents, and then they took over the hard work of submissions. How did I receive the Call? Sitting down, thank goodness.
What’s your favorite thing about the book featured here today? Any special memories you have in the creation of it?

I’m so proud of the historical world building I managed to pull off, and I just love the story. I’m so glad that I used two voices to depict the interplay between Men Cho’s and Chel’s perspectives. His struggle to overcome his “second place” status breaks my heart over and over again. I think this is why the book isn’t just for teenaged girls. I’ve had grown men tell me they stayed up all night reading it. I’m still really touched that the teenaged boy who was one of my beta readers wouldn’t return the binder until he had read it a second time.

What are you writing now?

I’m trying to revise a YA sci-fi novel, tentatively titled Not just another braindead teenager. The pitch? “On the way to an appointment with death, two teen-aged boys find themselves unexpectedly spared, trapped together in one body, one brain–frenemies locked in a fight to the life.”

 As soon as I’ve cleared room in my brain, I’ll be starting another dark, psychological YA novel–probably during NaNoWriMo 2011.

What would you like to tell readers?

 Out of Xibalba is now available in print and all ebook versions. Please read it and if you like it, tell all your friends. Before the world ends.

 Check out the easy links on LCTeen.com for clickthroughs to Amazon, Kindle, Borders, Smashwords, and Createspace. Also available through iTunes books.

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