Interview with OakTara author Michelle Levigne *GIVEAWAY*


Today I host a fellow OAKTARA author, Michelle Levigne. She is offering a giveaway to one fortunate winner. Please leave a comment with your email address for a chance to win. We have to have at least ten comments. Continental US only.

Michelle, tell us a little about yourself.

I think I’m a boring person — I constantly say I have no life. 🙂 That’s because I’m so busy writing and working and have little time for socializing. It’s a vicious cycle — but if I didn’t enjoy what I was doing so much, I’d stop doing it.

That said, my imagination is definitely not boring! My brother is a comedian, and I constantly accuse him of being extremely warped, so maybe I’m warped too, just in a different direction. I have all these weird people and worlds and situations in my brain, fighting to get out!

I was raised in church and made my decision early on. Except for going away for college and grad school, I’m still attending the church where I first landed in the nursery. I started out with an accounting major in college, then switched to theater and English. I have a BA in theater/English from Northwestern College and an MA in communications, focused on film/writing from Regent University. It feels like I’ve been making up stories and writing them down in one form or another “forever.”

Thank you for sharing about your growing up with us. Now tell us three things about you that would surprise readers.

Okay, first — I tried out for the Ladies Olympic Handball Team the summer I graduated from high school. In fact, I walked through graduation on Friday night, hopped on a plane for Colorado Springs the following Monday, got sick from the altitude and ripped up my feet with new shoes, then came home Sunday, my plane was delayed, and I was two hours late for my own graduation party!

Second, I came “this close” to selling a script to MacGuyver during the final season. The writing team told me they couldn’t tell me to rewrite the script I sent them — doing so would commit them to buy it — but they really liked it and if I rewrote it, they’d like to see it. Well, I rewrote it, but they never looked at it until after the scripts for the final half-season were already chosen. So close, and yet so far! 

Third … when I was in high school, my goal was to become a singer and songwriter, and be the first woman to be one of the Imperials. Okay, does that date me? 🙂 Does anyone remember the Imperials? No Shortage, Praise the Lord, Trumpet of Jesus, Heed the Call, Old Buddha — all the guys who sang with them and then went on to solo careers? Yeah, I was taking guitar lessons and trying to write songs and even took vocal training classes for a while in school. You’re all VERY lucky I turned my writing to novels and screenplays, let me tell you!

I grew up listening to the Imperials too! My dad loved Old Buddha. Were you an avid reader as a child? What did you read?

Yes, typical bookworm. I read everything I could get my hands on, with a heavy dose of fantasy and science fiction, mythology, and some of the classics. I loved the Scholastic book fairs, because I could OWN books, instead of just borrowing them. (This was before there were any actual bookstores I could get to — I thought the book section at the grocery store or drug store was an incredible treasure!) I even got in trouble in junior high for hitting the library and being late to class. I think I started writing mostly because I couldn’t find the books I wanted in the library, so I wrote the stories I wanted to read. That, and this tendency to rewrite TV shows and movies that didn’t end the way I thought they should, or that totally dissatisfied me, or the dangerous phrase: “I can write a better story than that!”

I loved the Bookmobile in school! What is your favorite genre to read now?

Hmmm … Fantasy is at the top of the list. SF. I like almost anything with an element of “otherness” in it, but I also like humorous chick lit-ish stuff. I have favorite authors. When I discover someone new I haven’t read before, I usually end up snagging all of their books I can, to catch up. But I don’t really have a “favorite” genre anymore — mostly because I try to read all over the place. However, there are some genres I DON’T read, because I know I DON’T like them. Does that count? My Un-Favorite genres? But maybe I should say that here. 🙂

When did you first begin writing, and why do you write still?

As I mentioned earlier, I wanted to read certain stories and couldn’t find them. And I rewrote TV shows and movies — and books — that didn’t satisfy me. I had stories and people in my head, and they wanted OUT. I tried scribbling stories many times, usually wasting my diary by starting a story, then deciding it was trash and tossing the diary. I remember writing a definite rip-off of Star Trek, with my own ship and captain and crew. And here’s innovation for you: at least fifteen years before Next Generation, with families on board the ship, my heroine was the captain’s teenage daughter. I wrote the opening few chapters, until she got kidnapped and stranded on an alien planet, then I wrote a few middle chapters, then skipped to the end when the ship came back for her and she didn’t want to leave. But never finished it. Then there was the attempt to write a “daughter of Zorro” story — maybe thirty years before Catherine Zeta-Jones and Antonio Banderas did it better. But the actual launch of my writing … in high school, there was a TV show about a guy who had been raised by wolves, and I thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if it was a GIRL who thought like a wolf …” And I’ve been writing ever since.

As a side note, that story finally got written the right way, and published, but in this story the girl IS a wolf, a halfling — a child from another world/dimension of reality, who gets tossed into our world and has to survive high school before she can find her way home again. “Wolves on the West Side,” with its sequel, “Shatter Scatter.” “Wolves” even got nominated for the EPIC Award the year it was published. So I must be doing something right … 

Why do I still write? Force of habit? I can’t stop? I have a lot of people in my head, still begging to have their stories told? I’m NUTS? Because it’s still fun, fulfilling, and I firmly believe you should fully use the gifts God gave you and celebrate them.

How long did you write before you sold your first book?

I “officially” started writing the summer of my sophomore year of high school, and my first sale, which was also a win in the Writers of the Future contest, was about fourteen years later. In between that, I had a lot of false starts, frustration, rejection letters, and fan publication. Never discount the wonderful training and feedback you can get by writing for fandom. Then there was another ten years between that contest win/publication and getting my first full-length novel published.

How many books do you have published?

Counting the ones that are no longer in print because I don’t want them out there — subject matter, I haven’t figured out how to “redeem” these otherwise great stories to be pleasing to God — I’ve crossed the fifty mark. Of course, these include novellas, as well as full-length books. That’s the great thing about e-publishing — you can publish novellas as stand-alones, just as easily as books that are four times the length.

Tell us about your latest book.

Books. We’re talking about the Chorillan Cycle with OakTara, right?  🙂

Five books, revolving around a struggle for justice and to solve mysteries and save lives on the colony world of Chorillan. These books are part of my Commonwealth Universe, which is a science fiction “world” or “universe” that I’ve created. I have over twenty books in this universe, with a lot more coming!

Titles:

Azuli Eyes — Meet Captain Ian Fieran, who comes to Chorillan on the trail of genetic terrorists, meets Miranda Riallon, and learns about the alleged disease called Phase that threatens to divide the colony with fear and prejudice against the victims: Wildlings.

Scouts’ Pride — Ian and Miranda are married and have a daughter, Kay’li. Miranda dies of the same mysterious illness that killed her father and many of his generation, and Ian takes Kay’li off-planet. He goes back to the Scout Corps, and Kay’li is raised among the Scouts, learning to be a hero, in essence. When Ian dies, she is recruited to go back to Chorillan to solve the mystery of the Wildlings and possibly save them from genocide. 

By Fire and Stars — Kay’li’s best friend, Lucas Aidan, falls victim to Phase and becomes a Wildling. He is rejected by his family and creates his own family, the Wildlings, and becomes involved in finding out what causes Phase, as well as surviving against the growing prejudice against Wildlings.

Chorillan — Kay’li returns to Chorillan and teams up with Lucas, to lead the Scouts in uprooting governmental corruption and stopping the wholesale slaughter of Wildlings.

Silver Azuli — Kay’li and Lucas are married and expecting their first child. When a family camping trip is sabotaged, stranding them in the wilderness, they face their remaining enemies and learn the truth of Phase.

You have been very busy! What inspired you to write this particular series?

This is proof that authors should never throw out anything. I still had that “wolf girl” story in my head from back in high school. I set it on an alien planet, and created a disease or genetic tinkering that resulted in children running off and living like wild animals. Well, that’s a couple dozen drafts and rewrites ago. Chorillan was the first book I wrote, under another title. The more research I did, and back story and characters I created, it became clear that there were more stories to tell than just the battle for Chorillan. I think I started writing Kay’li’s growing up story first, then I adapted a story I originally wrote for Kay’li and Lucas’ son when he went through Phase, and turned it into Lucas’ story. Then I realized Kay’li’s parents had their story that they wanted told. Then when I got to the end of the war and the downfall of the corrupt colonial government, I realized I hadn’t fully explored the final question: What causes Phase? So I had to write Silver Azuli, which answers that question.

I’d say it’s been a good twenty years, maybe more, in the writing of this series, to bring it to the place where it is now. As long and complicated as it’s been, with all sorts of dead ends and stalls and down time, it’s also been a lot of fun. And so satisfying when everything starts snapping into place and you realize it’s working!

What are you working on right now?

I have an Inspirational romance series set in a mythical town in Ohio, and I’m working on rough drafting the eight books for Year Two of this series. I have to write all the books before I can start revisions because the stories overlap, so I need to know what’s going on in everybody’s stories so I can have them “visit” the other books and make references to what everybody else is doing. Readers seem to like it, so I’m not going to change the process now, after twelve books!

Along with that, I’m working up outlines for a series I hope to have OakTara publish, dealing with a broken superhero and her mutant friends, who protect their small town that sort of sits on a nexus of dimensional doorways. Imagine a town that’s a combination of Roswell (the TV show) and Eureka (the TV show) and Buffy’s Sunnyvale — but without the weird science or vampires.

Where do you get ideas for your books?

The easy answer is a little shop in the French Quarter in New Orleans … 🙂 Honestly, my brain is constantly going all the time. I hear things, see things, decide I hate how someone is handling this idea and I have ideas that feel “right” for me … and somehow a book comes out of all the tweaking and research and revising. For example: I was at a writing conference and an editor mentioned that they were exploring the idea of zombie romances. My first reaction was “Ugh — how can you have a romance with someone who’s rotting away ….?” Well my imagination wouldn’t let go of it, and I scribbled notes for what will eventually be a Commonwealth Universe story called “Virtually Dead,” where the heroine is buried underground in a life support tube, and the only way she can make contact with the “waking world” is through sending her consciousness into recently deceased bodies, to animate them. Another publisher already has the cover art for it, and I have about thirty pages written. Just have to FINISH the dang thing!

But I hope that illustrates how I get ideas — from everywhere!

How do you get to know your characters?

Through revisions, through daydreaming about them, through creating back stories and histories for them. Eventually, when I throw them into a situation or a problem hits them in the face, their reactions come “naturally” — meaning I don’t have to sit at the blinking cursor and try to think of how they should react, what they should say or do — I know, it comes out of my fingers onto the keyboard almost faster than I can think of them. That’s when I know my characters have come to life.

Sometimes that’s the best part — when the puppets become “real boys.”

Are you a plotter, a pantster, or somewhere in between, and can you elaborate on your answer?

I’m a hybrid of the two. I write a general outline — I know the important turning points in the plot, that they have to be there to get where I want to go. Then I give myself the freedom to go off on side trips and tangents and goof off. Just as long as I eventually get to the ending I’ve chosen for myself.

I find that going for just slamming the dang thing into the computer, no stopping to revise and polish, and letting myself write contradictions — just get those words out — is so freeing. It lets me relax and have fun and explore, and I get scenes and events I definitely didn’t plan on.

Then I revise and revise and trim and rearrange.

My philosophy can be stated in two parts:

Give yourself freedom to write a first draft that is so wretched, if you printed it out and lined a bird cage, the bird would die. You can only improve from there!

You can’t do a booksigning for a book that hasn’t been published — you can’t publish a book that hasn’t been sold — you can’t sell a book that hasn’t been polished — you can’t polish a book that hasn’t been revised a dozen times — you can’t revise a book that hasn’t been roughed. So write the wretched first draft, and don’t paralyze yourself by demanding it be perfect the first time through!

I like your theory! What is your writing schedule and where do you write?

I’m lucky enough to have an office in the basement, with my computer and library and all my projects strewn around me. I have a great view of our back yard, with lots of trees and a little creek — deer, rabbits, squirrels wander through. I try to get up and take care of my morning devotions and exercise, then sit down at my computer by 8:30. Until 11 or so, that is MY time. My writing time. No email, no promotions work, no day job work. Then I try to exercise again, take care of email, post to my blog, try to visit Facebook, other chores, then have lunch, and sit down to the “day job,” which is freelance editing. I try to put in about 5 hours of that every day, just because I have to earn a living! Evenings are for either a second writing project or working on promotion items for an upcoming conference or booksigning or whatever, or socializing. Sometimes I give myself a treat and just sit and READ until midnight.

I want to come write in your basement! Does your faith affect your writing? If so, how?

Maybe not as much as it should, and I’m trying to improve on that. Some stories, it’s easier than in others to talk about God and apply faith-based principles to my characters’ decisions. For instance, it’s easier to talk about God in an inspirational romance story than in one that’s rewriting Greek mythology. 🙂  But I always have some element of faith, of righteous living, in all my stories. My characters might not sit around and talk about God or anguish about God’s will in their lives — or whatever God is called in that particular universe — but they have a reason for what they do, someone they know and acknowledge that they are answerable to. (Which is why some of my earlier stories just can’t be redeemed and re-released, because certain elements just don’t fit my renewed spiritual walk … I strayed, I admit it. They were great stories, but they were not honoring to God…)

Thank you for sharing about your spiritual walk. What would you be doing if you weren’t writing?

Reading! I have a 3-shelf book rack, and a growing pile on the floor, of books waiting to be read. And probably a good 50 or so in electronic format. All whining and complaining that I haven’t opened them up yet.

Have you won any awards with your writing?

I have 13 finalists in the EPIC Awards competition — the electronic publishing coalition — and 2 wins so far. I placed in other writing competitions through RWA when I belonged. 

In 1990, I won first place in the 4th quarter of the Writers of the Future competition. My winning story, “Relay,” was published in Volume VII of the winners anthology that comes out yearly. One of these days, I’m going to polish up the fantasy series that particular story fits into, and get it published. Yeah, when? <G>

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Daydream. Constantly. Make sure you have a notebook and pen ready wherever you are, because ideas always come when it’s most inconvenient to write them down. Read. Constantly. Everything you can wrap your brain around — don’t limit yourself to just one genre.

Write what YOU want to write, not what the market demands — because by the time you get it to market, the demand will have changed. Yes, vampires have been big for what feels like forever, but don’t write a vampire just because everybody’s reading them if YOU don’t care for the emaciated sun-phobic jerk with blood on his morning breath. Write from your heart. Write what makes you happy — because with the way the publishing world runs, it could be a loooooong time before you’re published, and you have to have something to keep you going until you make that sale. Write what feeds your soul and that you know will make God pleased and proud of you.

Awesome advice! I agree that you need to write what God puts in your heart to write. Now tell us where fans can find you and your books on the internet.

My web site: www.Mlevigne.com

Blogs: www.MichelleLevigne.blogspot.com

www.Tabor-Heights-Today.blogspot.com

I’m on Facebook.

I just joined Goodreads (finally!)

I have a lot of book trailers on YouTube — just look under my name.

My books are available at most e-book outlets and the big sites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble and Fictionwise.

My publishers:

OakTara — www.OakTara.com

Desert Breeze Publishing — www.DesertBreezePublishing.com

Writers Exchange — www.Writers-Exchange.com

Amber Quill Press — www.AmberQuill.com

Hard Shell Word Factory — www.HardShell.com

Uncial Press — www.UncialPress.com

Mundania Press — www.Mundania.com

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