EDENtifying Your Writing Process: An Interview with Novelist, Elisa Nader
"Chilling, suspenseful and evocative, ESCAPE FROM EDEN is one of the most surprising love stories I’ve read in ages. Elisa Nader is an exciting new talent in YA fiction and her first novel will have people lining up to join her cult. Consider me the first member.”- Bennett Madison, Author of THE BLONDE OF THE JOKE and SEPTEMBER GIRLS
My friend Elisa Nader has done something really amazing, she has become a published author. To me that is up there with walking on the moon, winning an Olympic medal, finding the cure for cancer (ok, maybe that last one is a stretch). But it is the kind of thing that many people aspire to yet few ever achieve. As a professional in the creative arts, I pay close attention when someone like Elisa punches through the glass ceiling. And you should too no matter what your medium because a successful model in one creative field can often be applied to another. Elisa's first novel, ESCAPE FROM EDEN is a breath of fresh air in an often predictable YA genre. She has a background that many of you reading this blog can relate to as an art major with a BFA in painting and printmaking from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA. It was at VCU that she began writing her first novel, but quickly cast it aside as her love of music took hold, and she picked up a bass guitar. Three bands and five years later, she moved back to Washington and rediscovered her love of writing, penning arts and entertainment pieces for the Washington City Paper. But, once again, writing took a back seat. After a stint at The Washington Post as a lead website designer for the Arts and Entertainment section, she began a long career at AOL as a creative director, working alongside such companies as Time Warner, Travelocity, MapQuest, Bebo, Moviefone, and many more. Since leaving AOL, she spends time writing, raising her seven-year-old daughter, and working alongside her husband in their new venture, Mag7, a User Experience Design collective.
Below is a synopsis of the plot from ESCAPE FROM EDEN:
Since the age of ten, Mia has lived under the iron fist of the fundamentalist preacher who lured her mother away to join his fanatical family of followers. In Edenton, a supposed “Garden of Eden" deep in the South American jungle, everyone follows the Reverend’s strict but arbitrary rules—even the mandate of whom they can marry. Now sixteen, Mia dreams of slipping away from the armed guards who keep the faithful in, and the curious out. When the rebellious and sexy Gabriel, a new boy, arrives with his family, Mia sees a chance to escape.
But the scandalous secrets the two discover beyond the compound’s façade are more shocking than anything they ever imagined. While Gabriel has his own terrible secrets, he and Mia bond together, more than friends and freedom fighters. But is there time to think of their undeniable attraction to each other as they race to stop the Reverend’s paranoid plan to free his flock from the corrupt world? Can two teenagers crush a criminal mastermind? And who will die in the fight to save the ones they love from a madman who’s only concerned about his own secrets?
And now, the interview.
SLA: Is Mia's artistic drive a reflection of your own? As a former art student do you still draw or sketch?
EN: I think her artistic drive comes from me. I knew I wanted her to have something forbidden in Edenton, but wasn’t sure what. I used to journal when I was in my twenties, but all my journals were essentially sketch books with drawings and random writings. I thought that would be perfect for Mia, Materials are so scarce in Edenton — paper, pens, pencils -- , she’s forced to sacrifice old drawings by erasing them from journal to create new ones. I thought it was an interesting dynamic in the story that maybe only artists would understand. Sacrificing something in order for a new idea to come to life.I don’t sketch and paint as much as I used to. Over the years, I’ve found my creativity has taken on different forms: Graphic and web design, interior decorating, writing—so much more writing.
SLA: Is famed portrait painter Nelson Shanks the inspiration for the likeness of "ginger haired" Reverend Elias Eden? It's ok to confide in us. No one reads this blog anyway.
EN: While this portrait of Nelson Shanks DOES resemble the Reverend (blue shirt and all!) you’ll never guess who I had pictured in my head when I was writing the character.
Yep. Zach Galifianakis
SLA: Please define your writing journey. How did you begin? How did you hone your craft? How did you get "discovered" and then ultimately published?
EN: I’ve always written - either in my journal or once I got a computer, I wrote on that. I started writing a story about a indie band on the road when I was in college, but it never went anywhere. I mean, I spent YEARS on that thing. Never showed it to anyone. I did some writing for The Washington City Paper, arts pieces and long-form articles (link http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/search/site?q=elisa+nader), but web design took over my life and I spent years doing that until I left my corporate job in 2008. That’s when I decided I was just going to write already and stop thinking about writing. I took a class online at mediabistro.com. The classes are taught by publishing industry professionals, so my instructor was an editor from Harper Collins who loved the story I was workshopping (different manuscript than ESCAPE FROM EDEN) and passed on to a literary agent friend. He saw a lot of potential in it, but was so busy with clients he wasn’t taking on any new clients but he gave it to a partner in his company, Upstart Crow Literary, and she loved it. It’s funny how things work out. My agent Danielle Chiotti is the perfect agent for me. She’s very editorial, which I love, and has helped my writing immensely.
One evening, when I was trying to work on a new writing project, I got the idea for ESCAPE FROM EDEN. My old manuscript was out on submission (that means editors at publishing houses were reading it, deciding if they wanted to buy it). As soon as I had the idea for EDEN, I realized that my other manuscript wasn’t good enough. I asked Danielle to stop submitting it and she supported the idea. A year later I had EDEN written and we submitted it. It was sold two months later.
SLA: How would you describe your writing process? Did you use any specific techniques for writing and idea generation such as story boarding that you could share with us?
EN: I sit down and write. That’s pretty much it. I outline a scene before I write it — but sometimes I just see where the writing takes me.
I always have an idea where the story is going to go, and for me they have to be high concept ideas. These are stories you can describe in a sentence, for example: Teen girl living on a commune tries to escape, only to discover the deadly secrets of the cult. I like to write big and high stakes stories with plot twists. Do I always do that? No. But that’s aways my goal.
SLA: Who would be the supporting characters in your life who helped you reach the milestone of published author?
EN: My husband, Brent Canfield. He’s so, SO supportive. I’m very lucky.
My best friend for over twenty years, Kami Greene. She’s read almost everything I’ve ever written!
My critique partner Nina Berry. She’s made me such a better writer over the years. I cringe at the crappy stuff I used to send her. She’s published novels, written screenplays, wrote TV shows. She knows writing and great stories. I took the mediabistro.com class with her and discovered she gave the BEST feedback in the class. That’s when I asked her to be my crit partner snagged her up as my own.
And my agent, Danielle Chiotti. I ADORE her. She’s supportive and caring and, like I said, editorial. I sent her a box of bacon once, I love her so.
SLA: While stalking you on FaceBook & Twitter, I saw that you recently attended the Romance Writers of America conference in ATL. Please describe that experience. Was it your first writing conference? How helpful was it in terms of net working etc.
EN: This was my third writing/publishing conference. I was really there to support my crit partner Nina who has a book coming out with Harlequin Teen. I’ve also been to a couple SCBWI conferences (Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators).
Conferences like that are fantastic because everyone is there for the same reason, same interests and it’s just so easy to meet and talk to people. And make industry connections. It’s such a safe haven from the outside world. I see how people become addicted to conferences - being surrounded by like-minded individuals who get you.
SLA: What peer to peer mentoring societies would you recommend to aspiring writers?
EN: First, a look at taking a writing class in whatever category you’re writing in — Non-fiction, Memoir, YA, etc. Like I mentioned, I took a class at mediabistro.com and it was really the best thing to happen for my career.Look for writers groups in your area — You can do this by joining local chapters of writers organizations. There are so many, and with a few simple search terms, you can find one that caters to what you write.
Get a critique partner. A TRUTHFUL critique partner. Someone who’s writing you respect and love. Someone who is going to tell you when your writing sucks and that you need to fix it. This person needs to be a WRITER, someone who understands the craft of writing. Not just a reader. And if you’re lucky, they are a strong writer you can learn from.
SLA: Who are your favorite authors & books? How often do you read?
EN: I read almost every night. Sometimes when I’m writing, I don’t read books until I’ve figured out the voice. I don’t want to be unintentionally influenced by someone else’s writing.
I read a lot of Young Adult, New Adult, romance, mysteries, and thrillers. I was really fortunate to get two of my absolute favorite writers to blurb ESCAPE FROM EDEN, Michael Grant and Bennett Madison. I LOVE Laini Taylor and how she can make words seduce you. I have so many favorite writers. So, so many. I think right now Matthew Quick is really at the top of his game. Can’t see where he takes his next book.
SLA: What do you have in the pipeline now as far as your writing?
EN: I’m working on a new book inspired by the movie The Legend of Billie Jean. Yeah. Exactly. We’ll see how it turns out.
SLA: If you had one really good piece of advice for aspiring writers out there, what would it be?
EN: Read Stephen King’s ON WRITING. Read that book and it will make your writing better. I promise.
SLA: What advice could you give us that would apply to anyone in the creative arts?
EN: Don’t pay attention to what the “trends” are in your creative area. Create whatever feels right to you. And don’t give up. The moment you give up creating what you love, they win. I don’t know who they are, but they win and you don’t want them to win, got it?
SLA: Please feel free to provide some shameless plugs now. Will you be making any author's appearances soon & where? Where can your fans follow you online?
EN: I LOVE SHAMELESS PLUGS!
I’ll be at the Fall for the Book festival, 9.22.13 at One More Page Books at 4pm for the YA Books Panel:
There’s a Goodreads giveaway of ESCAPE FROM EDEN - enter for a chance to win!
And you can find me online here:
(this is my tumblr and my blog)
SLA: Thank you Elisa for allowing me to pick your brain. Your answers have been extremely inspiring and enlightening. Thanks again!