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Posted by on in Author Series

**** This blog post originally appeared on Author Viv Drewa's site, The Owl Lady Blog, on Dec. 28th, 2015**** 

 

"Planting a Tree of Inspiration"

I think I have to blame the whole “me-wanting-to-be-an-author” on my father.  It’s all his fault.  He corrupted me something awful.  Not that I don’t think he minds being blamed for something like that, in fact, I would presume that he much rather enjoys it.  I don’t remember exactly how old I was, but it was way before I was able to read.  Dad wouldn’t read stories to me, he told them to me.  It was oral tradition at its finest!  I soaked up every character he created, every line of dialog he spoke in his deep voice (sometimes slightly raised to portray a female), every plot twist and turn. 

It was when he told me his version of “The Three Little Bears” that I had a profound epiphany related to story-telling.  His version was about the Three Little Bears’ cousins who lived in a different section of the forest.  Now, all his stories were twisted and fractured fairy tales, amalgamations of stories with which I was already familiar (but can’t recall for the life of me now); however, there was something about this one – Licorice, a black fluffy bear getting into some scuffle with the Big Bad Wolf – that stirred something in my brain: He’s making up his own story that’s connected to one that’s already known.  You can do that? You can do that!  And that was when I kind of knew that I wanted to do that, too!

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When letters came together to form words that I could recognize, something very visceral happened to me.  It was like an awakening, or being born.  All the doors to different worlds seemed to open at once, and the rest fell into place – first the reading, then the writing; I was discovering new avenues and outlets for all my young and innocent creativity. So, as soon as I could, I wrote.  Constantly.  One of my earliest aspirations of “what do you want to be when you grow up” was to walk into a bookstore, look at a shelf, point and say, “See that? I wrote that!”

As I got older writing became somewhat of a necessity for me. I attribute my writing to being the one thing that saved my life in my early teenage years. See, I was always the outcast. The outsider. The goth kid. The weirdo. The girl who would rather wear black nail polish and spend hours reading a book filled with poems about witches (a gift from my father, of course) than listen to the newest New Kids on the Block song with the girls in my class. I was bullied. Ostracized. Different. Writing became my outlet, and my coping mechanism. Writing got all the junk out of my head and brought me to crazy worlds of vampires and witches and all things dark and gloomy, all things that I felt in my heart and soul. It was an escape for me, and a way that I could be the weirdo me without judgment or criticism. Many a night I pondered suicide, but writing about it was enough for me to deal with those thoughts and feelings. In essence, writing was a means to pull myself from my own mind and depression. 

Teenage years were hard, and adult-ing isn’t much easier. Life sometimes takes over and spins you into an uncontrollable whirlwind of events… for me it was marriage, house, surgery, the weddings of practically my entire circle of friends, nephew born, etc. etc. - life knocking at my door with a child of my own. My writing habits and desires took a backseat for many years.   When my daughter turned a year old, I did some serious soul searching.  I had gotten to a point in my life where things were going very well.  I was happy in my roles of teacher, wife, and mother, but there was one hat that I still wanted to wear, so I sat my husband down and told him how I felt -  how there was this nagging void within me that so desperately needed to be fulfilled.  It was a no-brainer for him; he was supportive and encouraged me to go after my lifelong dream.  He coached me to stop making excuses and to stop letting me get in the way of me.  The rest is history.  In the summer of 2010, I finally wrote the first draft of The Coal Elf, and the Coal Elf Chronicles kind of snowballed from there.

 

The influence from my father has manifested, grown, and come to fruition because now I can walk into a book store and point to my books on a shelf. He passed his torch of creativity on to me in the most profound way. He and I have a very special psychic bond. Just the other day, he called me up and said he had an idea that he thought might work in the third Coal Elf book. I nearly died laughing because I had just been thinking the very same thing! 

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Posted by on in Author Series

As the electricity of the last weekend seems to die down, I’m finally able to breathe and collect my thoughts. This was the 2nd year that I attended Tampa Bay Comic Con, and the second go around not only met, but exceeded my expectations.

 

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 The Con started on Friday, July 31st, but I was only able to attend on Saturday and Sunday (Aug. 1st and 2nd). Once again, Twilight Times Books authors Scott Eder and Dora Machado were by my side. This year, we were positioned at two adjoining tables and had a much larger display, which I felt was really beneficial as we collectively doubled our sales from last year, and The Coal ElfSOLD OUT!

 

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The overall reception and response to having authors at the Con has certainly grown. Last year, we were barely a “blip” on the general populous’ radar, but this year was something else… it was different. There was a different vibe in the air, like people were almost looking for something new and fresh and exciting – something that took them out of the typical Con fare, but still immersed them in the realm of the fantastical.

 

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There were many familiar faces from last year. A lot of my kiddos and friends showed up and brought with them an enormous amount of love and support. I also recognized people from the Con last year and had numerous people comment to me that they bought The Coal Elf last year and were eagerly awaiting the sequel. As an author, hearing those words is indescribable! My work is forever out there in the world, people are reading it and enjoying it, and they want more? That concept is so wild to me. And while I’m no newbie in this rodeo of writing, feedback like that gets me all giggly every time!

 

 

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 One of the most important aspects of the Con was speaking on the Author Panels. This year, we really amped up the content, and all of our sessions were well received, and well attended (with a lot of people coming to more than one). Scott, Dora and I were joined again by author Tracy Akers.

 

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Saturday’s topics were “So You Want to Be a Writer?” and “Take Me Away: A look at Setting in Fantasy Writing”. Scott and I were later invited to sit in on a third panel that day with author Rod Martinez (an entirely impromptu thing), and this session was very audience-driven and super informative. On Sunday morning we were back again with one of my favorite topics “Villains: What Makes the Bad Guy Tick?” which again, was a lively and audience-led discussion.

 

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This was such a thrilling part of the entire weekend, because there were many aspiring authors in the audience (whose shoes I not too long ago wore myself) that were there looking for tips, tricks, pointers, experiences, any kind of help. Our panels became a lesson not only in craft, but in the writing business in general. Every session ended with a “come see me at our table so we can talk more about this”, or a side-bar conversation in the hallway, and even beyond that to emails and Facebook communication with people I have now happily welcomed into my writing circle. Because at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about – supporting each other to realize our dreams.

 

As we look ahead to next year, we’re already concocting bigger and more elaborate plans. We are working on a possible writing group to carry on through the year leading up to the next Con, and we already have possible topics for the panels next year! The Rise of Sturd will be out by then, and who knows just how large the authors’ presence will be in year three?   

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Today I officially signed my second contract with Twilight Times Books.  I am excited to announce that the sequel to The Coal Elf will be tentatively released on April 15, 2016. 

I cannot wait to unleash The Rise of Sturd unto the universe!

 

It’s about time!  J

 

This is my first official sequel, and I have to say, writing a sequel is much more difficult than you would think.  There’s a lot more preparation that goes into it.  All your ducks have to be in a row, every detail has to be spot on, characters have to act within their scope and sequence, and if something is off by a smidge it can throw everything off kilter.  With any book, there is an amount of research to be done, but with a sequel, there’s research, re-reading, more research, and more re-reading.  It’s practically double-time to write another installment in a series.  But I loved every grueling minute of it!

 

Without giving away too much, here’s what I can say about the book…

 

~It picks up a little bit after the first novel.  The Coal-less Night has been all sussed out and everything seems to be going well, but nothing can stay too good for too long, as a new threat rears its ugly head.

 

~New characters are introduced.  Old characters get more “life”. 

 

~The Coal Elf was YA Dark Fantasy.  The Rise of Sturd most likely will be considered Dark Fantasy.  The second go-around is grittier and darker.  It kinda has to be.  I mean, this is STURD’S story, after all…

 

 

~Expect the same level of familiarity to the beloved Christmas mythology.  Expect the same level of DeVivo warping that same mythology.

 

Get prepared for the next installment of The Coal Elf universe...  Get prepared for Sturd!  Click the pic to watch the Sturd teaser!

 

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Posted by on in Author Series

I’m baaaaaaaack….

 

I know, I know, it’s been quite some time since I’ve been at this blogging thing.  To be quite honest, I’m still not the “champ” I would like to be in this department.  Something about “blogging” in general feels strange to me.  I probably just need more practice at it.

This winter has been quite a doozy to say the least.  Thanksgiving to about yesterday has been nothing short of a non-stop whirlwind.  My life in Florida pretty much mirrored the weather up north – a constant swirling storm of the physical “go-go-go” and the mental tsunamis that accompany.  Sometimes, life just gets in the way.  Sometimes, life screams at you to pay attention to it. Sometimes, life has to take the front seat.   And now, as I breathe in some pre-spring air, I can sort out my mind with an eye on the next few months ahead. 

So… what’s been doing….?

It’s no secret that I parted ways with The Carolyn Jenks Agency.  It was an amicable parting, and I have nothing but much love and respect for every person over there as they are team of fabulous and talented people.  But, as we all know, my brand of “normal” is a very hard pill to swallow: I’m quirky and unconventional. I’m strange and twisted. I’m unapologetically me. And I’m a tough sell.  When I started my writing journey, I knew this wasn’t going to be an easy road.  I knew that whatever was going to come out of my brain was going to be 100% me – craziness and all. That might not jive with market trends and audience preference, but I refuse to give up.  I’ve accomplished many goals and milestones in my writing career, and I will continue to move forward. Patience is a virtue, right?  Trying to find representation is a quest in and of itself.  It’s going to take the right person who’s willing and confident to take me and my bag of macabre characters on…. Fingers crossed…..

Spring break is quickly descending upon us (I seriously can’t believe that!), and soon I will be back to researching, editing, and ultimately writing.  My writing schedule is pretty much set, and I am looking forward to immersing myself in a world of angels and demons.  This will be manuscript  #6 under my belt. 

Spring time is usually the “lull” time for The Coal Elf.  Which is understandable, given the nature of the novel.  Not sure many people are interested in reading about elves and the North Pole when the spring birds are chirping!  J I’ll start getting into promo-mode around June when I’ll be doing an interview for Cheryl Carpinello’s Blog.

Lots of unknowns ahead, but I’ve come this far and I know there’s so much more to tackle and accomplish.    Thank you all so much for all your time, energy, and support. 

~DeVivo

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If there is one word that I could use to sum up my experience at Tampa Bay Comic Con, it would be exhilarating. The show was a week ago, and I’ve seriously needed all this time to digest and process the whole experience.  A week after the fact, and I’m still feeling the buzz from it all.

I was at the Tampa Convention Center on Saturday, August 2nd, and Sunday, August 3rd with my two author friends and Twilight Times Books partners-in- crime, Scott Eder and Dora Machado.  We manned a table in Artist Alley where we sold lots of books, people watched (the costumes were phenomenal!), and spoke to a lot of great, like-minded people.  On Saturday, I spoke on two panels -  YA Literature is NOT just for Young Adults, and From Page to Screen: A Discussion of Some of the Best (and Worst) TV/Movie Adaptations.  Scott, Dora, and I were joined by authors Tracy Akers and K.L. Nappier.  This was the first time authors were given the opportunity to speak on panels, and despite being left off the general TBCC program, both sessions were well attended by a lively crowd that kept the discussion flowing and created a very educational and entertaining environment.

 

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 (TTB Florida division: (l-r) Me,Dora Machado, Scott Eder)

 

The overall, general vibe of the weekend was exciting.  Being in the thick of it, in the heart of my people gave me a sense of belonging to a larger entity.  I was apprehensive at first about doing a convention at this scale (there were over 30,000 people in attendance the entire weekend) because I was convinced my OCD and anxiety issues would send me over the edge.  And yes, there were a few times when walking back from a panel, or just getting up to go to the bathroom gave me some serious heart palpitations, but I think it was more from sheer awe and wonder than from true fear (okay, okay, I was afraid that there would be an outbreak of the zombie virus… but I SWEAR it was only for a split second!)

What I walked away with was priceless.  There were not very many authors represented at CC, which I had expected.  I don’t think buying a novel is at the top of the average “con-ners” list of things to see.  Everyone was pretty much there with a purpose – be it to see Evan Peters or John Rhys Davies or the sisters from The Walking Dead (love Brighton Sharbino and Kyla Kennedy!), cosplay the day away, pick up some Gimli art, get a rare Lady Death #1 comic book, or take a picture with the Tardis or Chewbacca.  As a matter of fact, many people looked surprised to see authors selling and signing novels at a venue called “COMIC CON.” But the feedback I received was outstanding, especially when someone I knew sauntered by our table and took pictures and gave hugs.  

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(Me and former student, Callie J. So many surprise faces at CC!)

 

I truly believe that fantasy and horror authors do have a voice in a place like Comic Con.  This was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg as I’m already looking ahead to next year and beyond.  More panels, more books, more people.  Come at me, bro!  Bring it.  I’ve been bitten by that strange and quirky “con-bug” and its venom is working itself quickly into my veins!

 

 

Here are some of my “authorly” observations for my writer peeps who might be interested in expanding their reach to large (or small) cons.  These tips might even help for book signings and author engagements.  Just my two cents.

 

Author takeaways: 

 

1.     Cover art matters.

Never judge a book by a, but how else are you gonna capture attention?  A lot of people told me, “Your book cover is what drew me to your table.”  Whether they bought a book or not is immaterial.  The fact that Ember drew them in matters.  I sold a book solely because the person who bought it said Ember looked like me, which I take as the highest compliment.  So make sure your cover not only captures the spirit of the story, but that it also “pops”.

 

2.     Stories matter.

Ya gotta hook ‘em in, right?  People are constantly on the move.  Especially at a venue like CC.  They have celebrities to meet and zombie parades to attend, so listening to you ramble on and on about your book is not beneficial to anyone.  Have a quick tagline at the ready.  Something that will grab them and make them go “Hmmm.”  I think I repeated myself hundreds of times, but every time I got a wide-eyed smile (okay, there was this ONE woman who crinkled her nose, but that’s fine.  An elf at the North Pole mining coal for the naughty kids at Christmas isn’t everyone’s cup of cocoa)!

 

 

3.     Giveaways matter.

Have something to hand out.  Anything.  Multiple things.  Business cards, book marks, rack cards.  Something that non-buyers can stick in their goody bags and marinate on when they get home and decompress.  Slap a QR code on all of your giveaways, too.  This can take potential customers straight to your Amazon market site.  The residual sales that I got from AFTER the con were worth it alone.  By Monday, I had a dramatic increase in ebook sales, and I have to attribute it to the after effect.  Candy also works.  We had a basket of candy perched at each end of the table, and that alone sparked many queries and conversations.

 

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 (the scope of our table)

 

4.     Presentation matters.

Be presentable and approachable, and above all – have a nice looking table.  Ours had a company banner that drew a lot of attention.  As people walked by, I saw them mouth “Twilight Times Books,” or say “Hey, what’s that?”  I know, I know, the average person probably assumed we had something to do with the Twilight series (which could have hurt or helped us, depending on how you look at it), but the fact was, our name was on their lips.  Our table was dope, yo!  Scott had his amazing free-standing banner of his book cover (Knight of Flame) that caught a lot of eyes.  People actually stopped in the busy aisle to read what was written on it.  I had my Coal Elf mannequin to display my t-shirts, and Dora had her easel with her Curse Giver and Stonewiser series montage.  We said “Hello,” and “Good Morning” to everyone in eyeshot or earshot, and most of all we SMILED.  I was a good girl, and paid very close attention to curtail my eye-rolling (which I am infamous for).  J

 

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(this was our TTB banner and it definitely drew a lot of attention!) 

 

 

 5.     Speaking matters.

Talk to potential customers, but most of all listen when they talk to you, especially if they are purchasing your product.  It’s a common courtesy to engage your audience on even the smallest of levels.  Do a panel or have time to address an audience.  Be yourself.  Speak from your heart, but also in your artist voice, if that makes sense.  Most book signings I do, I make sure I have a chance to speak.  Make sure you have a platform for which you can present yourself, your work, your philosophies, etc.  Comic Con was filled to the brim with aspiring novelists, and being on a panel allowed me the opportunity to connect with them and give some sage advice (whether it be from the business angle or the writing as craft angle.)  I’ve received emails from people who have told me that after listening to my presentation I’ve inspired them to write a book, or finish a project, or stand up to the person bullying them.  That alone is payment enough for what I do.  Making a connection with your audience on a personal level is one of the most rewarding parts of the business.     

 

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(panelists extraordinaire: (l-r) Scott Eder, Tracy Akers, K.L. Nappier, Me, Dora Machado)

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On Saturday morning, I was interviewed by a local Girl Scout Troop.  No, they don't just sell cookies... these Girl Scout Seniors are in the process of earning a The Senior Visionary Award and the theme of it is called “Girltopia.”  Part of their project was to interview someone who is creative and inspirational, and one of the girls in the group chose to interview me.  I was absolutely honored, to say the least.

 

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(Read about “Girltopia” here.)

 

 

I met with Lauren, Kotomi, Anna, Grace, and Lauren’s mother Julie, and while they asked me the standard interview questions, our conversation went to a very thought-provoking level.  What is art?  What is the concept of art?  How can art change the world?  These questions jarred me a little.   

 

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(1-r. Grace, Me, Lauren, Anna, Kotomi)



Well, what is art?  Where do we find it?  Art isn’t just the pencil and paper drawings, or finely spun pottery.  When you REALLY think about it, as cliché as it may sound, art is kinda everywhere - literature, photography, graphic design, food art, body art, sculpture, architecture, hell, even the fireworks on the Fourth of July represents a form of artistic work.  What I do (writing) is my version of art.  And my definition of art is “anything that bears a physical representation of someone’s soul.”  The creative mind, the creative heart, has a need to express itself in a particular way – whether it be a poem, or a picture, or an elaborately constructed cake.   Little snippets of soul, essence, aura, call it what you will, are sprinkled into anything that is creatively wrought.  And that is what separates “just a  _______” from something that is true art.     

And what of this concept of “Girltopia”?  Young girls face a plethora of problems on a daily.  Lauren asked me, “What is one of the biggest problems facing young girls today?”   Without missing a beat, I answered “Bullying.”  Cause, ya know… it kinda happens… a lot!  Kotomi opened her eyes wide and said, “You’re so right, I didn’t even think of that!”  From there we talked a lot about how girls are often too quick to judge others, and that stems from a poor self-perception.  I was wearing a tank top and shorts, and straight out admitted to them, “Guys, I’m 36 years old, and I’m sitting here with a group of young women, and what am I doing?  I’m constantly puffing out my shirt so that my little line of belly fat isn’t poking through.”  I think that kinda shocked them a little.  To this day, I STILL have a negative perception of myself.  Granted, it’s much better than my teenage years, and I’ve learned to love and accept the many aspects that make me me, but sometimes the damage runs so deep there are certain things that can never be erased. 

 

Dove put out a very interesting commercial last year called "Dove Real Beauty Sketches."  It compares how we view ourselves vs. how others perceive us.  It is definitely worth the 3 minutes of your time to watch it.  It certainly was an eye-opener for me.

 

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 In a true Girltopia, a perfect environment, girls would be able to be comfortable in their own skin, not afraid to be themselves, and accepting of others rather than judgmental. 

 

 

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Sounds like a dream, doesn’t it? 

But these young ladies are connecting to each other in a way that can and will eventually drive change. The Girl Scouts is the perfect outlet for them to express themselves artistically, reflect on morals and values, and be the change they want to see in the world. They asked me about what a visionary is, and what qualities a visionary should have.

These four young ladies, three rising freshmen and one rising junior ARE the visionaries, and I am glad and honored to have been included in their journey. 

   

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~DeVivo 

 

 

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The Coal Elf Trailer

Memo: Ember's Song

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