Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Writing and the Debut Author Experience

By Evan Ramzipoor @ER_Ramzipoor and Noelle Salazar @noelle_salazar 

Part of The Writer's Life Series

JH: We have something a little different and fun today. I don’t do many author interviews here, but from time to time, I have authors (and agents and editors), who interview each other.

Evan Ramzipoor and Noelle Salazar first met at Book Expo America: two wide-eyed first-time authors signing their World War II novels at the same table. Evan’s book The Ventriloquists, forthcoming on August 27, is about ragtag resistance fighters who risk everything to pull an elaborate prank on the Nazis. Noelle’s book The Flight Girls, which was released a few short weeks ago, follows a group of pilots in the Women Airforce Service Pilots program as they fight for their country and the people they love.

The two authors interviewed each other on the craft of writing and the debut author experience. 

Take it away Evan and Noelle…

Noelle: Writing historical fiction can be a task; taking a story and setting it within a real time period is hard. But taking actual events and writing a story around that, keeping true to those events but then adding your own characters and their stories can be daunting. How did you choose what to keep factual and what to imagine? And - did you ever worry (as I often did while writing my novel) what historians might pick apart?

Evan: You’re absolutely right that it’s a daunting task. When I was researching the true story behind The Ventriloquists, I came across all of these extraordinary anecdotes that I couldn’t wait to include in the novel. But I soon ran into an unexpected problem: these events were so extraordinary that I was afraid people wouldn’t believe they happened. This fear wasn’t unfounded. When I was querying, a few agents told me that a ragtag, down-on-their-luck group of misfits could never persuade the Royal Air Force to bomb their country. But… that actually happened! And that’s just one of many, many examples.

Writing historical fiction is a balancing act. I tried to include enough detail to give the story texture, but not so much detail that the story is weighed down by it. I wanted to pay homage to the actual heroes who architected the Faux Soir scheme, but I also had to take some artistic liberties since we don’t know everything about them.

I did fear that historians would pick apart the “inaccuracies”—I played with the historical timeline a little, for instance—but at the end of the day, I’m writing fiction. I want the reader to come away with a deeper appreciation for this astonishing piece of history. The dates and times are secondary.

Evan: For me, the hardest part of the publishing experience has been the uncertainty. You write a book, and then you don’t know whether your beta readers will enjoy it; then you don’t know whether an agent will want it; then you don’t know whether an editor will buy it, and then you don’t know how readers will respond to it. I haven’t really figured out a good way of dealing with that uncertainty. How do you wrap your head around it?

Noelle: Thankfully, I've found a group of authors who have professed these exact feelings - which makes me feel not so alone. Writing a book is a lonely process. Launching it into the world is terrifying. Just as terrifying as handing it off to beta readers, querying an agent, hiding under the covers as you wait to hear back on possible interest for your work, and running back to those covers when the book comes out and the reviews start coming in.

What I keep telling myself is this, the book will land in the hands it's supposed to. The people's whose heart it touches... it's for them. And anyone who doesn't like it? It's not for them. Plain and simple. There are so many books lauded by reviewers and friends alike that I hands-down did not like. It was just me. My opinion. One opinion on one book. You can't take it personally because not everyone has the same taste. I am not a good sci-fi reader. Too many different world names and strange monikers and I'm lost. Others crave the genre and thrive when reading it. And here's the other thing I now tell myself thanks to Brené Brown. Critics are not in the arena. Friends, family members, strangers who post awful reviews... they aren't writing books (well some might be but most aren't). So if you aren't in the same arena, your opinion just doesn't count to me. Get in the ring with me and take a few punches and see how you fare. Then we can talk.

Noelle: Did you go on any pilgrimages to write this book? I found it sometimes difficult to write about places I hadn't been. If you didn't go to any of the places mentioned in your book, what did you do to create those worlds to help the reader feel as if they were there?

Evan: I didn’t, sadly, though I’d love to go Belgium. Since I couldn’t afford to go, I relied on Google Earth street view. Whenever I felt disconnected from these characters or this world, I took virtual “walks” through the streets of Enghien. It might sound silly, but it really helped. I also used a bunch of primary source documents: diaries, records, books, and photographs from the war.

Evan: What has been the most unexpected part of your debut author experience?

Noelle: How comfortable I feel talking about my book in front of crowds. I am not a public person. Most of writers aren't. We write in solitude. We daydream constantly. We live in our heads and we take comfort there. So to step outside of that is scary. Wrong word. TERRIFYING. But for some reason this book of mine has given me my own wings. I have a mission - and it's not just about me, it's about the real women who inspired my story. I want their story to be told. I want people to do their own research and learn about the Women Air Force Service Pilots. And so every time I have to get up in front of a room full of strangers (just typing that makes me slightly ill) something in me switches on and - I'm good. I could not be more shocked.

Noelle: A few years ago I took it upon myself to buy several of the books I remembered reading as a young girl that touched me in some way. Do you have books that inspire you and that you go back to time and time again?

Evan: Absolutely! When I was a kid, I loved A Series of Unfortunate Events—and that has never changed. Different works in Daniel Handler’s canon have resonated with me at different points in my life, but I always find myself returning to ASOUE. There’s always a joke, literary reference, insight, or truth that I didn’t notice before. To celebrate the publication of my first book, I even got a tattoo of the eye from the story.

Evan: What has been the best part of the process?

Noelle: Other authors. Again, the solitude thing. It's hard to explain to people who don't write. How I'd rather not go to this party or that dinner because I'd rather be with... me. And all the characters fleshing out their lives in my head. So to find a group of people who understand this is something to behold. I can talk about my imaginary friends and they get it! They have some too! We're not crazy! (mostly)

Noelle: What is your favorite part of writing? Is it the excitement of beginning... that empty page before you waiting to be filled? The intricate middle where mystery is laid out and puzzles twist and turn? Or is it the ending, where the story and characters within it find their way to a finale?

Evan: That’s a tough one. I think the middle is my favorite part. By the time you’re a hundred pages in, you know the characters like old friends, and returning to your manuscript is like coming home. I often outline a few chapters in advance, and the middle of the manuscript is where the outline can start to fray…which is exciting, because you can weave those threads into something new. At that point in the process, I’ll often write letters to my characters to work through plot points and character development. Overall, the middle of the book is where I feel most deeply connected to the project and the story that I’m nudging—or wrestling—onto the page.

Evan: Now that you’ve seen the publishing journey from start to “finish” (I know there’s no such thing as “finished” in this business), do you have any advice for people who are just starting out?

Noelle: Tell your stories. In whatever form they come in. There are so many times I've had a sentence or scene appear to me and I scribble it down or type it into my phone. I don't know what it is. I don't know who it's about. But I know down the road it may be the perfect line or scene for something I'm working on. That happened recently as I began work on a new novel. I realized a scene I wrote years ago belonged in this story. So write down everything because you never know. It could become a short story, a novella, a song, a poem, or even a novel. Maybe you'll read it aloud to someone and it will inspire them in some way. Or maybe it will just sit there forever, and every time you come across it you'll smile as you are reminded that you are capable and your imagination is vast and wild.

About the Authors

Evan Roxanna Ramzipoor is a writer based in California. She also works as a content marketer, writing about cybercrime and online fraud. She studied political science at UC Berkeley, where she researched underground literature in resistance movements and discovered the forgotten story of Faux Soir. Her writing has been featured in McSweeney's and The Ventriloquists is her first novel. She lives with her partner and a terrier mix named Lada

Website | Goodreads | Facebook | Twitter |

Noelle Salazar is a lifelong resident of the Pacific Northwest and a lifelong storyteller. In 2011, Noelle discovered a book about the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) of World War II, which set off six years of research into the program, the women who were part of it, and what their service meant to their country. She has met and interviewed some of the last living WASPs as well as their family members, and visited the training facility—now a museum dedicated to the WASP—in Sweetwater, Texas. Her debut novel, The Flight Girls, shines a light on this little-known piece of history.

Website | Goodreads | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram |

About The Ventriloquists

The Nazis stole their voices. But they would not be silenced.

Brussels, 1943. Twelve-year-old street orphan Helene survives by living as a boy and selling copies of the country’s most popular newspaper, Le Soir, now turned into Nazi propaganda. Helene’s world changes when she befriends a rogue journalist, Marc Aubrion, who draws her into a secret network that publishes dissident underground newspapers.

The Nazis track down Aubrion’s team and give them an impossible choice: turn the resistance newspapers into a Nazi propaganda bomb that will sway public opinion against the Allies, or be killed. Faced with no decision at all, Aubrion has a brilliant idea. While pretending to do the Nazis’ bidding, they will instead publish a fake edition of Le Soir that pokes fun at Hitler and Stalin—daring to laugh in the face of their oppressors.

The ventriloquists have agreed to die for a joke, and they have only eighteen days to tell it.

Featuring an unforgettable cast of characters and stunning historical detail, E.R. Ramzipoor’s dazzling debut novel illuminates the extraordinary acts of courage by ordinary people forgotten by time. It is a moving and powerful ode to the importance of the written word and to the unlikely heroes who went to extreme lengths to orchestrate the most stunning feat of journalism in modern history.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indie Bound | Kobo |

About The Flight Girls

1941. Audrey Coltrane has always wanted to fly. It’s why she implored her father to teach her at the little airfield back home in Texas. It’s why she signed up to train military pilots in Hawaii when the war in Europe began. And it’s why she insists she is not interested in any dream-derailing romantic involvements, even with the disarming Lieutenant James Hart, who fast becomes a friend as treasured as the women she flies with. Then one fateful day, she gets caught in the air over Pearl Harbor just as the bombs begin to fall, and suddenly, nowhere feels safe.

To make everything she’s lost count for something, Audrey joins the Women Airforce Service Pilots program. The bonds she forms with her fellow pilots reignite a spark of hope in the face war, and—when James goes missing in action—give Audrey the strength to cross the front lines and fight not only for her country, but for the love she holds so dear.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indie Bound | Kobo |

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