Sunday, 23 November 2014

Getting to Know the Authors: Featuring Mary Elizabeth Summer!

Mary Elizabeth Summer is an instructional designer, a mom, a champion of the serial comma, and a pie junkie. Oh, and she sometimes writes books about teenage delinquents saving the day. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her daughter, her partner, and her evil overlor–er, cat. 

What has she written?
Mary has just published her debut novel Trust Me, I'm Lying.
Blurb of Trust Me, I'm Lying:
Fans of Ally Carter, especially her Heist Society readers, will love this teen mystery/thriller with sarcastic wit, a hint of romance, and Ocean’s Eleven–inspired action.
Julep Dupree tells lies. A lot of them. She’s a con artist, a master of disguise, and a sophomore at Chicago’s swanky St. Agatha High, where her father, an old-school grifter with a weakness for the ponies, sends her to so she can learn to mingle with the upper crust. For extra spending money Julep doesn’t rely on her dad—she runs petty scams for her classmates while dodging the dean of students and maintaining an A+ (okay, A-) average.
But when she comes home one day to a ransacked apartment and her father gone, Julep’s carefully laid plans for an expenses-paid golden ticket to Yale start to unravel. Even with help from St. Agatha’s resident Prince Charming, Tyler Richland, and her loyal hacker sidekick, Sam, Julep struggles to trace her dad’s trail of clues through a maze of creepy stalkers, hit attempts, family secrets, and worse, the threat of foster care. With everything she has at stake, Julep’s in way over her head . . . but that’s not going to stop her from using every trick in the book to find her dad before his mark finds her. Because that would be criminal. 

Now On to the Interview!!
1) How old were you when you started writing, in your opinion?
I started writing for fun in elementary school, 5th grade or so. But I went through great, years-long stretches without writing a word. I didn't start writing seriously until about 2005, which was several years after I graduated college and realized that if I didn't make time for writing, I'd never get a book published. I've given up a lot of other interests and hobbies to have enough time to devote to learning the craft. It's not easy, but there's nothing I'd rather do.

2) What do you want a reader to gain from reading your works?
Great question. It's hard to pick just one thing. In fact, I'll cheat and pick three. 
First, I want readers to gain an understanding and empathy for people who are unlike them--people who may have come from rough backgrounds or had crap to deal with their entire lives--to increase their own capacity for compassion and give people the benefit of the doubt, even people society would deem criminals. Everyone was a vulnerable little kid at some point in their lives. Everyone makes mistakes, especially when they are deprived of necessities that most of the rest of us take for granted. 

Second, I'd like readers to come away with an appreciation for all the shades of gray there are between black and white. People are complicated. Their motivations are mixed, never expressly good or wholly bad. And even the worst people can do brave and heroic things. 

Third, I want readers to be 100% entertained. I don't believe in literature for its own sake. If there's no story, then what's the point? Even if there is a story and it's not exciting, then why I did I just waste ten hours of my life reading it? I want to be chased, torn apart, rebuilt, and torn apart again when I read. So that's what I want my readers to experience.

3) What are your three top suggestions on becoming an author, or being a pleasure writer?
One: Read a LOT. Know what's already out there and find a way to twist the genre to make it your own. Reading will teach you more about writing than anything else (besides writing itself).
Two: Write a LOT. That book The Tipping Point talks about a certain number of hours you have to put into something before you get really good at it. That is so true for writing. I've written three other novels before the novel that finally got published. You have to be willing to do that work before you're good enough.
Three: Develop a thick skin for criticism. You will get criticism, and you will need it. You will be grateful for it, even when it stings like a hornet hopped up on Chemical X. And you will get it your entire career--from critique partners, from agents rejecting your queries, from editors rejecting your manuscript, from book critics who don't get your book, from readers who pick apart every word you ever wrote. So turn it around. Own it. Develop a taste for it, so you know when it's sound advice and when it's bullsh*t. If you can do that, you'll make it, and you'll actually enjoy the ride.

Bonus #Four: Follow other writers, agents, and editors on Twitter and pay attention to what they say. You'll be inundated with every free piece of writing and publishing advice you could ever need. Twitter: best kept author-making secret. Do yourself a favor and get on Twitter now while you're writing your first, or fifth, or fortieth, book.

5) What is your favourite novel, why?
Oh, jeez. You don't really expect me to answer that, do you? That's so hard. *thinks* I guess I'll pick Catseye by Andre Norton. I've reread it a million times. I think I like it so much because the characters are so sympathetic, and the bonding that happens between them is so believable, and the odds against them seem so impossible, and the world so alien. It's just everything. I love it. But there are so many other ones that blew me away, that I cart around with me every time I move because I couldn't imagine living without them. Keeper of the Isis Light, Fahrenheit 451, A Wrinkle in Time, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, Remember Me, Watch for a Tall White Sail, The Ship Who Sang, Jane Eyre, Eight Cousins. Someday I'll make a list and post it somewhere.

6) Who is your favourite author, why?
That's just as hard! There are so many amazing ones to choose from. I guess I'll pick Andre Norton to go along with the previous answer. She was an incredibly prolific author, but the quality of her stories was always amazing. And she was a female sci-fi author back when that was almost impossible. I really admire her, and I love all her stories. Whenever I read them, it's like she's reaching into my soul, ferreting out my deepest desires, and transmogrifying me into a better person. If my books do half that for my readers, I'll consider my career a success.

7) What are your favorite pass times besides writing?
Reading, singing, organizing stuff (I know, I'm weird), eating, going to wineries, hiking. I don't do much of any of those right now, but I have in the past and I will again once I'm done with all my deadlines. ;-)

8) Who in your life do you credit your imagination to the most?
Probably my dad. He's a painter, a writer and reader, a dreamer. He's brilliant, and he gets excited by all the world has to offer. He passed that excitement down to me, along with the confidence that absolutely nothing is too difficult to accomplish.

9) What are the top five things on your bucket list?
Finish book 3 in the Trust Me series. (and hopefully many other books)
Go to my daughter's college graduation. (a bunch of years from now--she's only 4 at the moment)
Go wine tasting in France. (I'm not picky about region)
Save up enough money for a comfortable retirement. (I'd probably better get started on that)
Fly somewhere first-class. (for obvious reasons)

10) What is your funniest childhood memory?
I once poked myself in the eye with an umbrella. It hurt a lot, but in retrospect, it probably looked pretty funny.

11) To the youth of today, if you could tell them one thing, what would it be?
Be kind. To yourselves, your family, each other. It's not always easy, but it will ultimately make your lives amazing. I have everything I have because I was nice to people. Kindness is often overlooked for things like confidence, ambition, intelligence, and bravery. All those things are necessary and great, but kindness opens doors that no other quality can. And it's rarer than it should be. So that's my advice. Be kind. Always.

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