January 07, 2019

#Interview: Debbie Zaken @Dkzaken

This week we have an interview with author Debbie Zaken!  

Where can readers follow you?

Facebook page: @DZakenauthor
Twitter: @Dkzaken 
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B078WBVV4Y
Instagram: @dkzaken 

  1. What is your name, where were you born and where do you live now?

Hi! My name is Debbie Zaken and I’m the author of the award-winning YA Sci-fi, Colliding Skies. I was born in Miami, but grew up in Guatemala. I currently live in South Florida. 

  1. Did you always want to be a writer? If not what did you want to be?

As a kid, I do remember wanting to be an author. I had a teacher in 2nd grade who would give us creative writing prompts a few times a week and it was my favorite thing in the world. I still remember her name, Ms. Francis. I think that's when I discovered how much I liked making up fun stories. All through elementary school, I remember writing stories, mostly horror. I don't know why, but I stopped really writing during middle school. I still devoured books, though. When I was in high school, my best friend and I would go to this used bookstore once a week and get new books. I think that at that time, being an author seemed like such a distant dream, like being a rockstar or a Hollywood actor. So I didn't really look it that way.  All through adulthood, I've always been a huge bookworm. But it wasn't until my 2nd child was born, that I got this idea for a story and decided, what the heck, I'll write it. I didn't go into writing with the idea of maybe becoming a published author. I took babysteps. Like, first my goal was to just finish the story. Then, I started sharing it with a few people that were close to me. They encouraged me to pursue it further. Then I joined a critique group, then I found Critique Partners, then I started entering writing contests and Twitter pitches. At that point, I did think I maybe had a shot. But all this took about 5 years.  I guess, in a way, I did dream about being an author as a kid. I also remember wanting to be an astronaut. So I guess Sci-fi author was a good middle ground.  

  1. Did it take a long time to get your first book published?

From first draft to published book, it took about five years. I’d just had my second baby when the premise for Colliding Skies, my first book, popped into my head, and wouldn’t go away. I wrote the first draft of the book in a year. After that, I learned that I had a lot to learn about the elements that make good fiction. I joined various critique groups and soon found amazing critique partners. For about 4 years, I revised, and revised, and revised. During that time, I won various writing contests and got a lot of rejection. But I just kept learning, improving, and revising. Finally, I got a few offers of publication in 2017 and signed with my publisher, Oftomes Publishing, in the same year. My first book, Colliding Skies, a YA sci-fi, came out in early 2018. 

  1. Do you work another job as well as your writing work?

Yes. When I started writing, I had two very little kids and a full time job with a non-profit. I recently went down to part-time, so that I could have more time to focus on writing and marketing my book. I still work with a non-profit managing a program for families with children with disabilities. 

  1. What can we expect from you in the future?  ie More books of the same genre? Books of a different genre?

I am currently working on the sequel to my YA Sci-fi, Colliding Skies, due to come out in 2019. I also have a different YA project that I am working on that I’m hoping to shop around soon. It’s a diverse (Own Voices) Young Adult Contemporary about a teenage girl from Mexico living in the US.  I'm hoping to get back to working on it once I'm finished with the sequel to Colliding Skies.

  1. What made you decide to write that genre of book?

It wasn't really wasn’t a conscious decision. I am an avid YA reader. When the idea for the story came to me, the age of the protagonist and the plot fit into the YA sci-fi genre. For me, it really starts with the character.  That's what usually comes to me first.  After the character comes alive in my head, I start wondering who they are and what they're going through.  I want to know more about them. That's how the plot forms in my head. That happened to me with Colliding Skies and it happened again with my YA contemporary novel that I’m working on. 
There is definitely something about YA that appeals to me. People have a lot of misconceptions about YA. But I find that within the last 6 or 7 years, YA is one of the most innovative and daring genres. 

  1. Where do you get your book plot ideas from? What/Who is your inspiration?

Music has always been an important part of my life. As an author, music fuels my writing. Almost every scene I write has a song associated with it. It’s not so much that I look for songs to match a specific scene. It’s more that certain songs will inspire entire scenes. So a song will prompt a scene in my head and once it’s there, I’ll play it over and over, until I can see it clearly, down to the characters' dialogue. That is how the premise for Colliding Skies came to me. I was in my car listening to a specific song one morning and the idea just popped into my head. It was like an entire music video played in my mind while I drove. I played the song on repeat the entire way and by the time I got to work that morning, I had the basic premise of the book fleshed out. I went home that night and wrote a brief outline. After that, music became my go to for inspiration. I even had the song titles for each chapter on my outline. The full playlist for Colliding Skies is on my website (www.debbiezaken.com). 

  1. Do you have a certain routine you have for writing? ie You listen to music, sit in a certain chair?

When I started writing, I had two very little kids and a full time job. That meant that my writing time was mainly at night after the kids had gone to sleep. Because of my busy schedule, I learned to write whenever I could. During my kids’ nap time, my lunch hour, whenever. I’m very consistent about writing. I usually write every day. But I’m pretty flexible when it comes to time and place. I can write anywhere as long as I have my laptop with me. I’m currently working part-time, which leaves me more time during the day to write. Although, I find that my better writing still happens at night. I do always have music playing when I’m writing. And if it’s daytime, I usually have a cup of coffee and some water with me. That’s really it as far as routine goes. 

  1. Do you have anybody read your books and give you reviews before you officially release them?ie. Your partner, children, friends, reviewers you know?

I have critique partners and a few critique groups I work closely with throughout the revision process. By the time I send out a manuscript to my publisher, it’s usually gone through a good number of eyes and multiple revisions. Prior to release date, I do work with ARC reviewers and bloggers to get reviews and help promote the book. 

  1. Do you read all the reviews of your book/books?

No, not all of them. For the most part, I only read reviews that I’m tagged on or are sent to me. I made a decision about a month before Colliding Skies came out not to look for reviews for my own emotional well-being. A number of author friends actually recommended this. They told me that the good reviews would find me. I must say, that has definitely been the case. Readers have been amazing at tagging me on good reviews, either on Twitter or Instagram. It's pretty cool to get a Tweet out of nowhere with someone telling you how much they enjoyed your book. It's an amazing feeling that still feels a little surreal to me. 
Another piece of advice given to me was to appoint someone you trust as your "Review Captain".  Their job is to check reviews for you every so often and let you know of good ones and, if need be, shield you from any ones that might stomp on your heart. My husband is my Review Captain. As far as I know, reviews have been mostly good. Still, despite all my efforts, I have run across a couple of negative reviews. I'm not going to lie. They few times it happened to me, it's not an easy thing to take. It doesn't matter that you have 20 other great reviews. You're going to fixate on the one negative one. Writers put so much of themselves into their stories. So much blood, sweat, and tears goes into breathing life into a book. But books, like any other art, are subjective. Not everyone is going to love your novel. And that's ok. Once you put your work out there, you have to know some people will love it and others won't. Better to go back and focus on all the readers who did connect with your characters and loved your story. 

  1. Do you basic plot/plan for your book, before you actually begin writing it out? Or do you let the writing flow and see where it takes the story?

I’m a combination of a plotter and a pantser, or a planters. I start with a very basic three-act outline (beginning, middle, end). As the idea develops, I create a loose chapter by chapter outline. But I don’t always have everything figured out, and often have gaps in between chapters that I fill in as I go along. As I start writing a first draft, I tweak and change the outline as needed. The outline for me is a flexible document that I use to avoid getting lost.

  1. What do you do to unwind and relax? Do you have a hobby?

Aside from writing and reading, I’m an avid runner. I find running helps me a lot with writing. I often get my best ideas when running. There have been plenty of times when ideas for solving plot holes or just new scenes have popped up in my head while on a run. I think it has to do with being able to just plug in some music and letting my thoughts run free (No pun intended.) without anyone interrupting me. I've often heard it's good for writers to go for a walk or do some kind of physical activity when they're struggling with writer's block or figuring out a scene. Running is my therapy. It keeps my happy and renews my creative energies. 

  1. Do you have a treasured book from your childhood? If yes, what is it?

I have a few. One of my all-time favorite books is Love in the Times of the Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. My literature teacher in high school gave me a copy and I fell in love with it. I must have read that book probably 5 or 6 times. I was also obsessed with Gone with the Wind when I was in high school. I think I read that book more times than I can remember. One of the other books that I read growing up that I think had an impact on me was Lord of the Flies. That story still haunts me until this day. I have often toyed with the idea of writing a retelling of it, but haven’t figured it out yet. Maybe one day I will. 

  1. Do you have a favorite genre of book?

I’ve been a huge reader since I can remember. Throughout my life, I’ve read all kinds of genres, mainly classic literature and Latin American literature. I read very little Young Adult literature when I was a teen myself. But I think this was because YA back then was far from what it is today. Maybe with the exception of books like The Outsiders or Lord of the Flies, I found Young Adult fiction back in those days kind of uneventful. Today, my favorite genre to read is Young Adult. I find that the Young Adult literature that is being published now, especially in the last decade, really pushes the boundaries and explores themes in greater depth that adult novels. Young Adult literature experiments and question. It’s not afraid to call BS on things. And yet, somehow it still leaves readers with hope for the future. Those are the books I enjoy the most and it’s what I hope to do with my own books. 

  1. What piece of advice would you give to a new writer?

One of the things I found most helpful in my path to publication was finding my tribe. Connecting with other writers, exchanging works, getting feedback and support. All that really helped me get to where I am now. Join a critique group, whether in person or online, find critique partners. It is really helpful to find people who will give you critical feedback on your writing. I truly believe that makes all the difference. 

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FTC Guidelines: In accordance with FTC guidelines regarding endorsements and testimonials for bloggers, I would like my readers to know that many of the books I review are provided to me for free by the publisher or author of the book in exchange for an honest review. If am compensated for any reviews on this site I will state that post has been sponsored. 


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