Name: Debbie Zaken
Latest Release: Colliding Skies
Genre: YA Sci-fi
- Has writing always been a passion of yours?
I discovered I loved writing stories in 2nd grade. My teacher would give us funny writing prompts and I loved it. I continued writing until my early teens and then just stopped, probably because I felt self-conscious about it. I was always an avid reader, though. It was rare that I wasn’t enwrapped in a book. It was probably only a matter of time before the stories that played in my head found their way to the page.
- At what age did you begin to write seriously?
It wasn’t until my early thirties that I began to write seriously. 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 kept thinking about these characters and their story. Finally, I told a friend about it who gave me the kick in the pants I needed to stop thinking about it and start writing the darn story. Pretty soon after, I realized writing wasn’t just a hobby for me. It was something I seriously wanted to pursue as a career.
- What is your favorite genre to write and does that differ from the genre you like to read?
So far, I have only written YA. Throughout my life, I’ve read all kinds of genres, mainly classic literature and Latin American Magical Realism. But once I discovered Young Adult fiction, I quickly fell in love with it. I love how diverse it is. How unafraid it is to tackle any subject. I relate more to stories about young people rather than adults. I enjoy the elements of hope, discovery, and endless possibilities that you find more in young adult fiction. That is why I write and read Young Adult.
- Where does your inspiration to write come from?
My inspiration comes mainly from music. Music fuels my writing. I can’t write without it. Just about every scene I write has at least one song associated with it. Music prompts scenes that play in my head like videos. I end up listening to the same song over and over, until I can practically see the entire scene play out and hear the characters’ dialogue. The premise for Colliding Skies came to me while I was listening to a song. Music has often helped me tap into certain emotions and the type of music I listen to depends on the kind of scene I’m working on at the moment.
- How does the generation you belong to impact your writing style, or does it?
That is a good question. I honestly don’t really know the answer to it. The one thing I do know is that I’ve gotten very good feedback about how authentic the teenage voice of m y characters sound. I think that’s because in a way, I still relate to that period in my own life. I’m still drawn to TV shows, movies, and books that are geared to a teenage audience. I think that’s why the teen voice comes pretty natural to me. Still, I am very much aware of the fact that I am far from a teenager now, so I try to be very cognisant of the pop cultural references I use in my books. I also try to avoid sounding like I’m “trying to hard” to sound teenagey. I guess it’s a fine balance.
6.What does your writing schedule look like in a typical week?
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.
- Are you a pantser or a plotter?
I’m a combination of both, 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 getting lost.
- Can you name an event in your life that has made the biggest impact on where you are today?
I think having my children impacted me the most. At some point during those early years of motherhood, I found a confidence and strength in myself I hadn’t known before. It was this confidence that gave me the strength to embark on the adventure of writing a book. I really don’t think I would have had the self-confidence to try writing before that. I think that becoming a mom kind of made me realize that if I can do that, I can do anything I decide to do, even becoming a published author.
- You own your own company and write. How do those two things coincide? Do you find it hard to manage both?
As a freelance editor, I take as many jobs each month as I can realistically handle without it cutting into my writing time. In addition, I also work part-time at a non-profit. Add on to that family responsibilities, and it definitely becomes difficult sometimes to juggle everything. I try to prioritize depending on deadlines, my clients’ or my own, and dedicate my time accordingly.
- Do you think writers have better luck going the traditional or the self-publishing route?
I don’t think it’s a one size fits all type of thing. There isn’t one right way to achieve publication success that works for everyone. I believe that different authors and different books have different paths. There are many authors who have done great self-publishing their work. And there are many authors who have both traditionally published and self-published. Both options have advantages and disadvantages. Both routes require a lot of time and effort from the author in terms of marketing. I think it really boils down to what is right for you. Even though my publisher is small, as a debut author, I prefered having the support and guidance of a publisher instead of trying to learn it all on my own. That doesn’t mean that I will always feel this way or choose this option. But that is what worked for me at that moment. Again, I really think it all depends on what you are comfortable with and what you are looking for.
- What are you working on right now both with your company and personally?
In terms of writing, I am currently writing 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. In terms of editing, I have a few small projects, mainly non-fiction, that I am currently editing.
- What do you find are the most effective means of promotion?
To me, social media is very important. I use social media a lot to engage with readers, writers, authors, and bloggers. I prefer Twitter and Instagram, but the key is really consistency. The goal is not just to gain followers and sell books, but to really engage and connect with people. I think that resonates more with your potential audience and helps build your brand much more than just promoting your book.
- What advice do you have for someone just beginning his or her journey into writing?
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.
- What piece of fiction has made the biggest impact in your writing career and why?
That’s a really difficult question for me to answer. I have loved reading since I can remember. I’ve read all kinds of genres. But one of my favorite books of all time is Lord of the Flies. I remember reading that book in high school and becoming obsessed with it. I’m not sure if the book had an impact on my writing career, but it definitely impacted my love of the written word. To me, Lord of the Flies is a classic Young Adult book. The 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.
- What final thoughts would you leave potential readers and future clients with?
Thank you for taking the time to learn a little bit more about me. I’ve dreamed about being an author since I was a kid. I feel so blessed and lucky to have an opportunity to share my stories with people. I also love being a freelance editor. I truly enjoy helping other writers hone their craft and make their work the best it can be. So if you are a writer looking to get your manuscript in shape, I’m happy to help any way I can.
About the Author
Debbie Zaken is an award-winning Young Adult author. Her debut novel, Colliding Skies, is the first in a YA sci-fi series from Oftomes Publishing. It received 1st place in the Society for Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators Florida Rising Kite 2016 Award. Born in Miami, Debbie grew up in Guatemala and is fluent in English, Spanish and Hebrew. She currently resides with her husband and her two fabulously trilingual and adorable girls in South Florida.