Amber Mitchell Discusses Her Journey To Becoming A Published Author

Today we’re talking with Amber Mitchell about her journey to publishing her first novel, Garden of Thorns, hitting shelves on March 6, 2017. Amber graduated from the University of South Florida with a BA in Creative Writing. She currently lives in a small town in Florida with her husband Brian and their four cats.


Starting from the very beginning, what inspired you to start writing Garden of Thorns?

Every time I see a movie where there is a big ball room scene and the women are twirling around in their ball gowns, I always thought they looked like flowers. It was one of those things I filed away for a later date.  While I was editing a supernatural novel that I was working on, this voice kept tempting me. It grew so loud that I opened up a different Word.doc and I started writing in Rose’s perspective. Her situation, being trapped where she was, resonated with me so strongly that I had to keep writing to figure out exactly what she was so afraid of. That night I came up with the concept of the Dancing Flowers and the Gardener and never looked back. GARDEN OF THORNS was one of the few books I didn’t plot out completely before I started writing. After I got stuck, I started to plot, but I was surprise at how natural it came to me.
 
What were some of the edits you made in order to polish your manuscript before submitting to agents?
 
I went through a lot of rounds to edit GARDEN before I considered it ready. I knew I had something special with the concept and world but I had a lot of problems with the middle half of my book. After getting some feedback from beta readers I was able to refocus the plot and felt the book was much stronger. I also needed to add more world building in. I’d had touches of Delmar’s religion and culture but I needed to amplify it even more before I sent it out.
 
When you decided to submit your work to agents, how did you narrow down the hugeamber-9491 list of agents to a list of those you wanted to query? How did you keep yourself organized throughout this process?
 
My saving grace was Querytracker.net. I lived on that website. It’s really useful because you can track which agents you query, the status of your query and on what day the agent responds. I updated it every day and spent hours reading the comments people posted and what other agents had requested and rejected. When I felt I was ready to start querying agents, I looked at what they represented first and foremost. I was not making the mistake of sending out a query to someone that didn’t represent my genre. Since I was writing a YA fantasy, an agent that represented both of those genres became a must for me. I shied away from those that liked YA but weren’t into epic fantasy since I wanted to save myself as much heartache as possible. After that, I looked at which agents were the most active, who they represented and sent out my queries.
 
Speaking of queries, what tips can you give other writers who are faced with the daunting task of writing their query letter?
 
Do your research. This is such a big one. And after you’ve done your research, make sure you are personalizing every query you send out there to the best of your ability and following guidelines to the tee. Don’t get disqualified before an agent even lays eyes on your work! The other major thing that I find helpful is to give your query to people that haven’t read your book and ask them if it makes sense with their limited knowledge. That will help you weed out those generic phrases and confusing sentences.
 
gardenYou were signed by Nikki Terpilowski and have been working with her ever since. What is it like working with an agent? Was there anything that surprised you?
 
It’s really nice having someone in your corner that will help you navigate the maze of the publishing world so you can focus on the things that matter (like writing). Since this is my first publication, I had so many questions and Nikki has happily answered every single one. She has always been an awesome advocate, giving me great advice, celebrating my victories and also advising me when to take a step back and let things play out naturally. Even now, I have a hard time letting go of control, not because I don’t trust, but because I care so much. However, I’ve learned to breathe easier knowing that Nikki is on top of things.
 
After your book sold to Entangled Publishing, did you have anything that surprised you about how a publishing house operates?
 
Working under deadline has been a completely new experience for me. I’m a slower writer (I used to think I was pretty fast but I’ve come to reconsider that opinion) so while I would always set myself deadlines, it was nothing like what was expected of me during the editing phase of publication. Then there was the added pressure of knowing that people are relying on me to get my job done so they can complete theirs. I loved the back and forth of completing edits and then receiving comments from my editor a few weeks later. It made the novel feel alive, always changing, always new.
 
The other thing I didn’t expect was how many rounds of edits it would need. I was prepared for the developmental and line edits but the multiple rounds of copy edits took me by surprise. I actually found the copy edits to be the hardest because I could no longer move things around and suddenly, I had to justify why I was changing a word or taking one out.
 
When the edit notes came in, did you have any obstacles that seemed insurmountable? How do you approach editing your story?
 
The first round of developmental edits were big and I’d be lying if I said that didn’t scare me. When I first opened up the email, it felt like I needed to rewrite most of my book, which was only partially true. After re-reading the email and speaking with my husband, what I began to realize is that I needed to re-think all of the decisions I’d made and really figure out what made sense. I needed to reanalyze character motivation and relationships to figure out what all of my main characters wanted. After I started thinking about motivation and how that affected everything in the world, the rest sort of flowed onto the page naturally. It helped that I got permission not to worry about word count!
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What is one “writing tip” you learned from editing Garden of Thorns?
 
The question that kept coming up in editing was what was keeping Rose and Rayce from their goals. Was it just for plot’s sake or did I create an underlying reason for them to be unable to obtain their goals (and each other) in the beginning of the story? When I approached the story for that angle, scenes that were lacking tension suddenly sparked off the page.
 
So the biggest trick I’ve learned from editing GARDEN, is to really dig deep and figure out what is keeping your characters from reaching their goals emotionally, physically, spiritually and societally. Points if you can come up with something that does all four! Make them want whatever they want badly, make it impossible and then join in their triumph as they strive, bleed and stretch to reach the unobtainable.  
 
You mentioned in your earlier interview that you found out how impatient you were during the slow moving process that is publishing. Any advice to writers who find themselves staring at their computer screens?
 
Is there any advice they would like to share with me?
 
I kid, I kid. Mostly…
 
The only thing that has helped me besides very cheap champagne and expensive chocolate is to focus on your next project. I hate this advice because it’s literal torture to follow it, but if you really do unplug yourself from the internet, even 10 minutes at a time to fall in love with something else, it will get easier. Not a lot easier, but enough to function.
 
It seems that publishers and agents alike are always advising authors to be building their author platform. How did you approach this?
 
This is something I’m working on even as I’m typing this interview. I started out in the book blogging community so that is proving helpful. It’s also very prudent to test several different social media sites so you can find out which ones are enjoyable for you to use. Personally, I really like Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads so that is what I’ve been focusing on. Try to be active, don’t make every tweet, update or blog post about writing. People want to know the person behind the words.
 
walt disney world - magic kingdom castle fireworksAny exciting plans to celebrate your book’s publication day?
 
I’m going to Disney World with my hubby and friends! No, seriously, I am. Which isn’t a super huge deal since I live in Florida but it seems like a good way to celebrate the fruition of a lifelong dream. I might even get that Gaston plushie I’ve been eyeing and if I want to get really crazy, we might even go to meat sweats (we call Brazilian steakhouses by this lovely moniker) for dinner.

 

For more about Amber and Garden of Thorns check out her website or follow her on Twitter @Amberinblunderl.

 

Amber Mitchell on Great Characters and Writing Inspiration

By Kortney Price

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Amber Mitchell is the author of Garden of Thorns, which is to be released March 6, 2017. She graduated from the University of South Florida with a BA in Creative Writing. She currently lives in a small town in Florida with her husband Brian and their four cats.

On your site you mention that you love movies. Which are your favorites?

I think my favorite recent movie release has to be Zootopia. It was adorable! I can always watch Clueless, the Harry Potter movies and pretty much anything with Ryan Reynolds (loved Deadpool). However, I think the best movie I’ve ever seen is The Princess Bride. I can pretty much quote every word of it. I saw it when I was about 8 and it inspired my love of fantasy.

How have these movies influenced your writing?

I’m not sure how much the movies I watch influence my writing. I enjoy that they have such concise plots (which is something I struggle with in my own writing). Anything with a fantasy setting always captures my interest since I admire how movie makers (and game developers) create even the tiniest details that many people won’t even see for the backgrounds and sets.

You also call yourself a papercrafter. Tell us more about that.

Sure! My husband and I began a small business a few years ago crafting all manner of nerdy subject matter out of card stock. We take the shapes and layer them in a shadowbox frame using foam adhesive dots. It creates a 3D picture. We can make pretty much anything and it’s a great way to relax.

Here is a link to our Etsy shop: A Paper Place by ThePaperPonyPlace

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You seem to really be inspired by fairy tales. Which are your favorites? Have you based any of your writing on them?

There are three fairy tales that I’ve loved since I was a kid: Beauty and the Beast, Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland. I was so excited to see Belle from Beauty and the Beast because of her adventurous spirit and her love of reading. I felt like I was looking at myself! The thing that stuck with me as an adult was how so many fairy tales were originally much darker than the tales I got as a child. I feel really inspired by that blend of childlike innocence and darkness. I think it’s also the thing that draws me toward stories where magic has a cost, a darker side.

As far as basing writing off them, I’d been searching for something that would be a good twist on the fairy tales I love but nothing ever seemed to be original enough. I finally came up with an idea I like for an Alice in Wonderland inspired story which I am writing right now. Alice’s theme of identity makes for a really good young adult novel and I’ll take any chance I can get to ship Alice with the Mad Hatter!

You’ve said that the characters are your favorite part of a novel. Who are your favorite characters and why?

I tend to fall for a different character in every book I read! A few of my favorites:

  • Tris from the Divergent series by Veronica Roth because I really admired her blend of toughness but also her vulnerability.
  • Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling because she was allowed to be clever and bossy but those are the things that made her endearing.
  • Yelena from the Study series by Maria V Snyder because of her unwavering strength

I recently finished Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo and fell in love with the Darkling!

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Any tips on creating awesome characters?

Creating characters is something I still strive to achieve. When I was a newer writer, I worried too much about what they looked like and spent a lot less time trying to understand the world from their view. I’ve found that the best thing I can do in when writing a scene is to look at that scene from every character’s perspective. I do a lot of writing in first person perspective which I enjoy but it also gets me stuck in one perspective. Pulling myself out of the main character’s head and figuring out how the other characters in the scene would react (even if it goes against how you originally saw the scene or plotted it) makes for a more exciting and real character!

One other tip is to give each character a few ticks or mannerisms. Even if they never get revealed in the book, I think it goes a long way to helping understand who they are.

You used to be a 911 dispatcher, how has that position inspired your writing?

Being a dispatcher definitely gave me insight into the different ways people react to stressful situations. I also got much better at reading between the lines of what people said versus what they actually meant. I haven’t had a chance to write an officer into a story yet but I’m also very well versed in police procedures and investigative techniques. Many nights, I would question whichever police officer that walked into dispatch about what it feels like to hold a gun or what they saw on a regular basis.

On your website you write about facing your writing fears. What have been some of the biggest writing fears you’ve faced?

I believe the greatest fear most writers have is that nagging question: am I good enough? Am I good enough to write this book, am I good enough to get an agent, to get a publisher and when all that happens, will people like my book? We spend all this time putting words to paper, having our character face things we’d never face in real life, and infusing our books with things we might not even want to admit to ourselves just to turn around and put it out in the world and let people judge it.

The ugly truth is that failure is part of every step of the writing process and something every writer faces daily. I’m not sure I have a good answer on how to face this yet. I just remember that we can only grow by trying.

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As you’ve traveled along the path to publishing your novel, what has surprised you about the publishing industry?

I’m a firm believer in doing research to prepare myself in whatever I do so I gathered as much knowledge as I could before going through the publishing process. Still, there have been a few surprises along the way. I’m in the very early stages of the process but the biggest two surprises have been how long each step of the process takes and my reaction to waiting. I’ve always considered myself a patient person but the publishing process has shown me that I’m clearly not. I’d always read stories of other writers constantly checking their email and thought that I’d be okay with just waiting for my phone to alert me if anything was going on but I was totally the opposite! Some days, all I could do was stare at my screen and wish for something to happen!

Your first novel, Garden of Thorns, comes out next year. Tell us more about it!

Garden of Thorns is a young adult novel that takes place in an Asian inspired fantasy setting. It follows 17-year-old Rose who escapes from the Garden, a burlesque troupe of slave girls, and joins a rebellion against the current Emperor. There she meets the handsome rebellion leader, Rayce, and tries to convince him to aid her in her quest to end the cruelty of the Garden and free the other dancers still held captive. But she harbors a secret that she fears might force the rebellion to use her as a pawn and she’s not sure who she can trust. There is lots of adventure and kissing and even a bit of science-inspired magic!

gardenMy book will be published by Entangled Publishing (who are amazing) March 6, 2017.

I’m so excited to share my YA fantasy novel Garden of Thorns with everyone! The main characters, Rose and Rayce, have been such a big part of my life for a long time and it has been so surreal to talk with actual people from within the industry who know and care for them as much as I do!

To keep up with Amber check out her website and follow her on Twitter @Amberinblunderl