Today I’m hosting YA/fantasy author A.J. Culey as part of her blog tour to celebrate the release of The Trouble With Antlers (a.k.a. Melvin’s Rampant Rack). Since I’ve spent the past year exploring the werecreatures in my own urban fantasy world, I was excited to see that other people are also writing about nontraditional shapeshifters! Culey was kind enough to answer some questions about her life as a writer and her inspirations behind this book in particular. Please consider checking out her novel for yourself or the cool kids in your life!
What drives you to write?
In the beginning, I created stories to entertain my nieces and nephew. For years, I would tell them stories out loud at bedtime or to entertain them on long car rides or just for fun. I would make up the stories as we went along, eliciting their suggestions and ideas, with the goal always being to make them laugh. Over the years, together, we created an entire cast of characters, whose stories were never written down. Today I write for the same reason I told stories back then – to entertain my nieces and nephew, though they’re all older now, and to hopefully bring laughter to my readers.
What’s the hardest thing about balancing writing with the rest of your life?
The absolute hardest thing for me is saying no. I have a hard time guarding my writing time. I may be deep into a scene, but if the phone rings, I can’t seem to stop myself from answering it. Often, my writing time transforms itself into family or hanging-out-with-friends time. I’m getting better, but it’s a constant battle to remind myself that my writing is important and that it’s okay to say no or even maybe later.
Do you have a special writing space? What’s in it?
I mostly write at my house. I have a number of different spots, including two desks, an armchair and my bed. Pretty much, I’ll write anywhere, as long as I’m able to concentrate. I do write elsewhere at times, sometimes at a Panera or at the local library. Mostly, though, I enjoy writing at home, usually with at least one cat for company.
Do you write to music, or do you prefer silence? Why?
I prefer the beauty of silence. Any sort of media for me is extremely distracting. TV is the death of my imagination so it pretty much remains in an off state 24/7 at my house. As for music, it pretty much doesn’t exist in my world. It’s not that I dislike it. It’s just that it’s too distracting for me to own or play.
Do you have a favorite conference or convention that you go to? What makes it awesome?
Every year, I attend the UtopYA conference (now known as UtopIA), a YA readers and writers conference held in Nashville each year. I love this conference because it’s all about empowering the author, particularly the authors who have chosen an Indie or Hybrid author path. It’s truly a place to learn and grow and network. I always walk away feeling empowered in my choices as a writer and as a human being.
Do you have a favorite book? Or author? Or genre? Or is it too hard to pick?
It is hard to pick. I enjoy reading romance, mystery, fantasy, kids books and YA. Specifically, I love Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series and J.D. Robb’s In Death series. I love Mo Willems’ picture books and Cinda Williams Chima’s Seven Realms series. I could continue naming authors, books and series, but I’ll stop there.
Let’s talk about The Trouble with Antlers (a.k.a. Melvin’s Rampant Rack). What is up with this title?
I know. It’s ridiculously long, right? The thing is, THIS was the title, almost from minute one. Often, I don’t write a title until the very end of a story or book. But in this case, the title was there, leaping onto paper within the first ten pages of writing the book. It never changed once, not even a little. The title literally embodies what this particular novella is about.
So what is it about, exactly?
Basically, Melvin is a teen moose shifter. He lives in Shifterville, a town that recently hired a human veterinarian, who will be moving to town with his teenaged daughter, Amelia. The town now has to keep the two humans from discovering that shifters exist, an issue that is made much more difficult because Melvin has no control over his antlers. Any time he gets close to a girl, his antlers pop out of his head. As a result, he has to somehow avoid running into Amelia and thus revealing the existence of shifters. Obviously, hilarious events ensue.
What was the most important thing for you in creating the world of Shifterville?
I basically focused on three things. First, having it reflect true high school and teen experiences. Second, providing many opportunities for laughter, which let’s face it, anyone who has endured high school knows how absurd life can be within those walls. And finally, providing an authentic view of shifters, which involved a lot of animal research. I wanted Melvin to portray some moose characteristics and his best friend Paulie porcupine ones, even when in their human forms.
What’s the next project? Is there a release date or window yet?
I have two upcoming projects. The next episode in the Shifter High series is called The Trouble with Thieves (a.k.a. Those Blasted Bunnies) and is scheduled for release in August 2016. I’m also working on a sequel to my chapter book, Tyrabbisaurus Rex, slated for release in Dec.
A.J. Culey was not born a shifter, much to her dismay. Despite her limitations as a human, she enjoys spending time with cats, bunnies and other animals. She hasn’t met a shifter yet, nor has she had any antlers spontaneously appear in any classroom she’s taught in, but she hasn’t given up hope that it might one day happen. In the meantime, she has fun writing about the possibilities.