Interview with author Christine Norris

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: I’m glad to be interviewing friend and author Christine Norris, who has several works for children and adults, including the “Library of Athena” series and the “Zandria” duology. When she’s not out saving the world one story at a time, she is disguised as a mild mannered librarian, mother, and wife. She cares for her family of one husband-creature, a son-animal, and two felines who are steadfast in their duties as Guardian of the Bathtub and Official Lap Warmer, respectively. She has also done several English Adaptations of novels translated from other languages, and reached a new level of insanity by attending Southern Connecticut State University Graduate School to get her Master’s in Information and Library Science. She currently resides somewhere in southern New Jersey where she writes interesting opening bios for interviews. Her web page is here!

Christine, how did your first novel get published?

CHRISTINE NORRIS: I sold my soul to the devil, uh, I mean I was such a newbie. I had a book of agents and publishers, and knowing pretty much nothing about them, sent queries. And bombed horribly – got back my own letter from one, with the word ‘No’ scrawled across the top. Another came on a crookedly-copied half-sheet of paper. Ugh!

But it was the early 2000’s, and there wasn’t a lot of stuff on the internet about publishing, and most agents still took paper copies. Eventually I found a writer’s forum, Absolute Write, and I started to find out about other publishers. I found LBF, a teeny tiny publisher, in Pittsburgh at that time. They took my first book, TALISMAN OF ZANDRIA, and the sequel. Both are out of print now, but I’m doing new editions for Zumaya.

VENTRELLA: What is your writing background?

NORRIS: I really don’t have a formal background, nothing like a degree in Creative Writing or anything. I just started writing in 2001, and kept on going. I have six books now, with a seventh out with an agent (crossing fingers for an offer!) and working on number eight. Yes, it took me ten years and six novels to finally land an agent. Just goes to show it’s never too late. I really love her too, she’s just wonderful and supportive.

Someday I guess I’ll stop writing, but I don’t see any reason to at the moment. I’m like a literary Forrest Gump.

VENTRELLA: How did you find your current publisher?

NORRIS: That is an interesting story. Okay, maybe only interesting to me. The publisher that put out the first two books in the “Library of Athena” series decided to go back to strictly Romance books — which these decidedly are not. I had the third book finished, and they dropped the series. After I finished freaking out, I calmly put out an email to my friends at Broad Universe, begging, I mean, asking if any of the publishers in the organization would be interested. Elizabeth Burton at Zumaya said she would look, as long as it wasn’t a Harry Potter or Twilight clone, and she liked it enough to take it for the Thresholds imprint.

VENTRELLA: What do you think are the advantages of a smaller publisher?

NORRIS: I think there are advantages to publishers of all sizes – everyone has their pros and cons. You can be a big fish in a little pond or a small fish in a big pond. Smaller publishers are more personal, a little more homey, if you will. They also, many times, have less money to spend on promotion, which is okay if you know how to do a little guerilla marketing. They will also sometimes take a chance on a book that a bigger publisher might not feel is commercial enough. I always say that if you do your homework and are comfortable with what any publisher can give you, there’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to publish. It’s all about what you can live with.

I was at a writer’s conference recently, and there were a lot of big agents and editors from Big Six houses attending. We hear a lot about how people ‘in the biz’ feel about smaller publishers and how they look down on us. It is just not true. They were all very professional, and more than once I heard: “Someone selected your work from a slush pile. You are just as published as anyone.” It was nice to hear, and it was nice to get that kind of respect for my work.

VENTRELLA: Tell us about THE SWORD OF DANU.

NORRIS: It’s the fourth book in the “Library of Athena” series. Oh, you want to know more? All right then.

Megan Montgomery, the main character, has begun to teach herself magic. After the last adventure, when she almost gave up protecting the Library of Athena altogether, she decided that she needed to arm herself against the Order of Ares, a.k.a. The Bad Guys. But her magic doesn’t always go the way it should. She has also decided that she will do whatever it takes to never, ever, never open one of the Special Collection books again. They are enchanted and suck you inside, and then things try to eat you while you solve the clues and fight the monsters to find the magical artifact hidden inside the book and get out.

Unfortunately, something has gone terribly wrong, and one of the books has escaped its pages and is now this imaginary Ireland is taking over the manor where Megan lives. So she and her friends are kind of forced into finding the artifact, in this case the Sword of Danu, so they can fix it all. There’s more to it than that, but I don’t want to give too much away. Except that, of course things try to eat them. Things are always trying to eat them. There’s the Morrigan, and Goibhniu the Celtic smith-god and all kinds of teen angst.

VENTRELLA: And, of course, you have a series based around a library. Tell us how that series came to be.

NORRIS: It was so long ago — late 2004 — that I really can’t remember when or how I came up for the idea for the series. It kind of evolved from what might have been a chapter book idea to a novel, to a series. My son was only 2 at the time, so I had never heard of the Magic Tree House series, which my books get compared to often, along with Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, and Percy Jackson. There are a lot of similar elements in them.

I do remember stating at one point, “I think I could write a hundred of these.” Uh, no way. Five is the limit. One more left to go. It was just serendipity that, years later, I became a librarian. At that time I was working a really horrible part-time job and being a stay-at-home mom. Life is just funny that way, I guess.

VENTRELLA: What was the biggest mistake you made when first starting out as a writer?

NORRIS: Just one, really? I’m sure I made all kinds of mistakes. Not knowing how to write a good query letter. Not really doing my homework when it came to submitting. Being too self-conscious with my writing — it all came out stiff and self-absorbed. I think once I realized that I actually knew what I was doing, that I had made it past most of the newbie mistakes of the technical parts of writing, like not filtering my main character’s every action through me, the narrator, that I was able to loosen up and just write better, let my unique voice out (which is mostly sarcasm thinly veiled as humor, but still …). I also think that every writer needs to make those kinds of mistakes, so that they know when they’ve got it right.

VENTRELLA: What’s your advice for authors who wish to self-publish?

NORRIS: Don’t do it unless you are willing and able to commit the time, energy, and money that it takes to do it properly. Being a self-publisher means you aren’t just the writer, but you are the publisher, and unless you understand exactly what that means, I don’t suggest you attempt it. You need to hire editors, cover artists, do marketing, and pay for it all. It’s a big job. It can be done, but those who have been successful will tell you it was hard work.

VENTRELLA: What piece of advice would you give a starting author that you wish someone had given to you?

NORRIS: Be yourself. I never wrote to trends, or tried to write fan-fiction (though I recommend it to teachers who are trying to teach younger writers the mechanics of story and writing itself), but I had this idea of what ‘good’ writing was, and I was trying to reach some ideal. That old axiom ‘write what you know’ doesn’t really apply to most fantasy writers — unless one of you out that happens to have a dragon in their backyard or owns a big secret library full of magic books — but write what you like. Make yourself happy with a story and you’ll make readers happy too.

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