Interview with Debbie Zaken

Debbie Zaken Cover
Author Talk: Richard Lowe Interviews Debbie Zaken

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.

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In this fascinating interview she in addition to telling her story and giving great tips for authors, she tells how she got her self-published books into bookstores and how that affected her book sales.

It’s not wise to chase a starlight.

Since Skye Reilly can remember, she has been looking up to the stars. With high school graduation upon her, her telescope in one hand and her college acceptance letter in the other, she has life as meticulously mapped out as her star chart. That is, until the Celeians arrive and she meets Ethan, an alluring alien.

The Celeians promise many things. An end to disease, global warming, and famine. Despite the suspicions surrounding the intriguing aliens and rising anti-alien protests, Skye gives Ethan her trust, and eventually her heart. The very heart he could stop with a lethal electrifying touch of his hand. When the Magistrate, a council of alien leaders, threatens to put an end to their interspecies relationship, following her heart could cost Skye her life and the lives of everyone she loves.

Not even light can escape the pull of a black hole.

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Interview Transcription Debbie Zaken

Richard Lowe  00:00

Welcome to author talk with Richard Lowe. I’m here with Debbie zaken, who’s an award winning young adult author. Her debut novel is a is first in a young adult series from ofttimes publishing. He received first place in the society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Florida rising Kate 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. Thank you for coming on the show, Debbie.

Debbie Zaken  00:34

Thank you for asking me.

Richard Lowe  00:43

So Debbie, tell me, tell me a little bit about yourself.

Debbie Zaken  00:48

Okay, well, I like I was born in Miami, but I actually did grow up in Central America and Guatemala. I went to a bilingual school. So that’s how I have the English that I have. And I’ve always been an avid reader since I could remember. And I actually started writing while I used to write as a child. And then I actually started writing again, a few years ago, six years ago. And, you know, I started kind of just as not a hobby, but as sort of like, okay, let me write the story for me. And then I really, really started loving it. And, and that’s how I got into writing.

Richard Lowe  01:32

I understand and why young adult.

Debbie Zaken  01:35

Um, it was a, it’s still a genre that I read predominantly. I mean, I grew up as a as a kid. And in Ohio, throughout high school, I read mostly a lot of classic literature. Growing up in Latin America, I love a lot of the Latin American literature as well. And that somewhere along the line, I discovered young adult, and I really, in really, really just enjoyed reading that type of genre. And it wasn’t that I just decided that oh, let me write a story. It was sort of more like a story came to me and the story came as a young adult genre.

Richard Lowe  02:12

I understand and why don’t you define young adults that I understand what it means? I’m

Debbie Zaken  02:16

okay, I’m not an expert. But it is stories that deal with basically, that’s stay stage of life around 12 to about 80, more or less. And there, they you know, I mean, there’s all kinds of genres, but basically, the heart of it is still the coming of age story. And it’s told Yeah, and I think what’s different, what differentiates young adults through to other literature that might have a protagonist that is 12, or 15, or 16? Is that it is told through the perspective and the voice of that person that age? And that’s, that’s young adults.

Richard Lowe  03:01

Are they first person or third person?

Debbie Zaken  03:05

I mean, most of them, most of the young adults that I have read is first person, it’s not a set rule. There are young adult novels out there written in third. But there is something about the first person and about it being such a I mean, first person is you’re you’re seeing everything and experience and everything through that character’s eyes. And so it really does kind of make it a very intimate kind of story. And I think that maybe it just fits into the genre.

Richard Lowe  03:36

Because you’re following around one character and experiencing life through him or her.

Debbie Zaken  03:40

Yeah, yeah, like I said, it’s not it’s not like it’s set in stone. I mean, authors do all kinds of things. And one of the things that I really enjoyed about young adult, especially in the last four or five years, it’s that it’s become very, almost experiment, experiment experimental. I mean, authors, there are some of the most different and really unique stories out there are really coming from that genre right now. In my opinion.

Richard Lowe  04:07

Interesting. Now, you said it’s a young adult Sci Fi series wanted to explain the Sci Fi part.

Debbie Zaken  04:13

Okay, so the Sci Fi part, can I hold up the book? Is that okay? Sure, of course. Alright, so I have it with me. Okay. So you can see it’s sort of alien spacey kind of cover. And so I call it light sci fi because it is. It is not, I mean, it takes place on this planet. And it takes place in modern times. But there is a light sci fi element to it, or contemporary sci fi is another term that I’ve heard it used, but it does have a it has an alien invasion or aliens story there and that’s what really makes it sci fi. But I would define it as contemporary or like sci fi. Okay. Okay.

Richard Lowe  05:00

Why did you like you’ve already described why you like young adult? Why did you choose sci fi?

Debbie Zaken  05:04

You know, again, it wasn’t that I wasn’t a conscious decision. Oh, let me write ya sci fi story it was the idea of this for the story really just came to me and it just went into that genre. It wasn’t something that I like, you know, consciously decided to do. Let me write it like that it just the concept and the story just came to me and that was how it came.

Richard Lowe  05:28

And when you write your story, do you just plot the whole thing out? Or do you do just sit at your pants, write it as you go.

Debbie Zaken  05:36

So I’m somewhat of a Lancer or plotter, I’m somewhere in between a plotter and an answer, Pastor? Yes, thank you, I do like to have, I start with a very basic outline, I usually even start like with a three act kind of outline, Act One, act two, act three, and then slowly start building it into a very basic outline. And as, as I develop the story in my head, and sometimes even as I’ve developed it in the first draft, I add scenes, I moved Pete scenes around. So my outlines tend to be somewhat detailed, but still loose and very flexible. I kind of use it more as a as a guideline than an outline really.

Richard Lowe  06:21

Okay, and do you find yourself as you’re writing a story that it changes direction suddenly?

Debbie Zaken  06:26

Yeah, yes, yes, I have had that happen. I’ve had it happen with the first book, and I’ve had it happen now with the sequel that I’m in the midst of writing. And, and because I am like, again, I kinda, I’m not, you know, I have an idea of where I want to go. And I still have an idea of how it would be ending where you know how I want it to end. But if something changes that I’m writing, and I say, oh, wait a second, this changes the entire thing. Then I go back and I adapt the the outline, and I change it accordingly. But I am flexible. In that sense. I kind of do feel that story, you know, when you want seem to lead to another and one little change can completely change your, your entire story. And so I do I am flexible in that sense.

Richard Lowe  07:11

I understand. Yeah, I’m writing a science fiction book. And I got about 30,000 words in and then the characters kind of told me, I want to go this direction. I’m like, no, no, no. That way. And it was kind of weird.

Debbie Zaken  07:23

Yeah, yeah. And even now, now that I’m writing the sequel, you know, the characters, I see how they have actually grown and how their character arc has has changed. And now I’m like, wait a second, what do you mean, you’re doing this now? You know, just, yeah, they do take a life of their own. And, but I think that that’s, I think that that’s, that’s you see, that’s, that’s where a story progressing and the characters growing as they should?

Richard Lowe  07:52

How long does it take you to write a book?

Debbie Zaken  07:55

I am a very slow writer. I wish I was a fast. I mean, I’m a very slow drafter I’m pretty good with revisions. And editing is usually faster for me. Drafting takes me a while. So the this book, this one here, the first draft. Now granted, you know, I don’t have you know, I mean, I have children and I have family obligations and work and all that. That took me probably a year to write the first draft. So and even though I have more time to focus on the second draft this time on the sequel this time, I still find it that I’m not the kind of writer who will crank out a draft in three months. I wish I was I think I also have this challenge that I like, I like to draft clean. So that kinda it’s a good thing because then in the editing phase of it, it moves faster but in the drafting phase it sometimes I really slows it down.

Richard Lowe  08:53

I understand how that works. Do you do you type your novels do you speak them? How do you do that?

Debbie Zaken  08:59

Yeah, I laptop and typing. I haven’t tried to speaking it. I even know some people who write it by hand. I put I’m not good at that. One My handwriting is way too sloppy for that. But typing Yeah, just me and a laptop. Really?

Richard Lowe  09:16

I’ve got I’ve switched over to voice dictation almost totally. And I found my speed went up by four times.

Debbie Zaken  09:23

Do you go back and change it like if you decide what it’s like I don’t want this word how

Richard Lowe  09:26

to like go back and do an editing pass.

Debbie Zaken  09:30

I should try that.

Richard Lowe  09:31

I’ll try it. It takes some getting used to just let me warn you. But once you get used to it, I never go back because I just did just talk talk talk talk talk and I can talk really fast. And then I go back go boy What is your favorite memory about writing your book?

Debbie Zaken  09:50

My favorite memory about writing my book. In the process of writing or after it was done or or judged? I think that’s a really good question. I think my favorite memory was, before I showed it to, you know, before joining a critique group or all the things that you know, once you kind of have a better understanding of what it really means to be a writer, I showed it to a few my first draft, I showed it to a few select friends that I know are avid readers, and that they liked this type of genre. And I actually told them separately and send it to them separately. I said, please do me a favor, if this is just like, really, really bad. Just just telling me like, don’t waste your time, you know? And then they all of them came back like, this is great. This is amazing. And it wasn’t, you know, politeness of it, because I really, are you sure? Are you sure. And I got all this, like really great feedback from them that they really enjoyed it. And I think that that was probably the moment I said to myself, maybe I have something here. And I don’t know if that’s my favorite memory. But that definitely something that stands out in my mind as something that was a switch in my head that I said, Okay, so maybe I’m not writing just for myself here. Maybe there’s something

Richard Lowe  11:14

interesting. How do you promote your books?

Debbie Zaken  11:21

Yeah, that’s a good question, too. I do a lot of social media. Facebook is, even though on my personal life, Facebook is actually my go to kind of social media and my author, life, I haven’t found it as helpful. I’m very active on Twitter, and Instagram. And so a lot of the promotion has been through that, but not the kind of the, you know, just pop up of like, buy my book, buy my book, buy my book, it’s really been sort of building slowly, of interacting with bloggers and readers and other authors. And I found that that’s really been one of the best ways to promote the book. Now, I’m slowly kind of expanding to that. And I’m trying to do more local promoting as well. So I have a festival that I’m attending with about like, 10 other authors next month or September, like right around the corner. And, you know, I’m trying all kinds of things. You know, so far, what I have more success with has been really the social media piece of it. But if you have any amazing secrets, please share.

Richard Lowe  12:40

I do have amazing secrets, but we can get into that later. Well, okay, as you’re writing your book, how do you what do you do to remain productive? I mean, if you’ve got, you’ve got two children and a husband and a job, it sounds like you’re very busy. How do you stay focused on writing.

Debbie Zaken  12:54

Um, so I am sort of like a writer, I write anywhere. I always had my laptop with me, everywhere I go everywhere. And even when I was working, like full time, I would sometimes you know, during my lunch hour, I would go to Starbucks and sit there for 35 or 40 minutes. When my kids were younger, you know, they I would write during naptime. I do a lot of writing at night. Unfortunately, it seems to be the time when I’m also most productive. In terms of writing. I think it’s just because the house is quiet, and I don’t have any other distractions. But I just try to I do try very much to write every day. In that sense, I try to be very disciplined, although knowing that once in a while, you know, binge watching something on TV is also good for you. And that’s sort of that’s sort of kind of the way I do it. But again, like I said, I wish I could just crank out, you know, 80,000 words in three months. But that’s not it doesn’t work for me that way. So I tried to find, you know, even if I can do it, 30 minutes here, 45 minutes here, you’d be surprised how, how much can come out and even 45 minutes, you know?

Richard Lowe  14:10

Do you have a routine where you like close the doors, turn off social media and etc? Or do you just jump straight in and not care about interruptions?

Debbie Zaken  14:17

I should turn social media off. I haven’t been very good at that. If I am home alone, I’m usually well if I’m like during the day, I’m usually writing on my kitchen table. I like to write there. I always have music with me. I actually need music to write I can’t write in silence. You know, because I do. I’m kind of like a wandering writer. I mean, if I’m at a coffee shop, I’ll also have headphones and music and I’ll write their routine. Not a very strict routine, but my routine usually involves music and coffee or music and tea or some sort of kind of thing like that. I need music tonight and I need either coffee or tea if it’s later or at least water next to me. That’s it.

Richard Lowe  15:00

I don’t have it. That’s really it. I understand. And you said you have a laptop? Do you carry around a Mac? Chromebook, then does machine?

Debbie Zaken  15:08

Yeah, I just have a regular PC. Okay.

Richard Lowe  15:13

Okay, I use a Chromebook. Because it’s cheap, and it’s nice.

Debbie Zaken  15:17

I just have a regular PC, which is a little heavy, I should be looking for options that are somewhat lighter to carry. But I haven’t found anything that isn’t too expensive and not too small either. Because some of those are kind of small and not so comfortable with typing. I just have a regular PC.

Richard Lowe  15:31

I understand. That’s what I worked on for years till I got a Chromebook. But anyway, okay. Do you get writer’s block? And if so, what do you do about it?

Debbie Zaken  15:41

Oh, yeah, I do. I do get writer’s block. I often get writer’s block, not often, but when I do, it usually has something to do emotionally outside of writing, that is sort of, you know, just life, you know, something going on in life. I, when that happens, I usually try to give myself a break, I’ll I’ll read a lot. Just, you know, sit then, you know, have you no book with me. I will also watch some TV TV helps, I’ll you know, try to catch up on shows that I really enjoy. And, and once I kind of feel that I’m ready out of start trying to write again. But you know, kind of go as I kind of go with what I have with what I can. So if that day I did 150 words, well, I did 150 words, or maybe I did editing instead of, you know, by, but I sort of tried to push through it. But I don’t try to push myself too hard. I kind of feel like sometimes I need to, I need some some time to get that creative juices flowing again. Oh, the other thing that actually helps me a lot is that I’m a runner. And so when I go on a run with music, and it’s just me and my mind is sort of kind of just wandering is usually when I get my best ideas, and I can all of a sudden I’ll get idea, oh, wait a second, I can fix this pothole like this. So those are my ways of dealing with writer’s block.

Richard Lowe  17:13

Interesting. Do you find that sleep and what you eat and things like that have an effect on your writing?

Debbie Zaken  17:21

Bleep probably, like if I’m not sleeping enough, and definitely just too tired to concentrate. For me, it’s somewhat more tied into emotional, you know, like, I mean, I can give you a very concrete example. I actually lost a parent this year. And that was something that really, really, it was very, very difficult for me to write. So it took me about two months to even be able to just put any words to paper. So it’s sort of I feel that maybe because writing requires you, you know, if you’re writing a scene that requires you’re tapping into emotions, and you often have to yourself tap into emotions. And if I’m not in a place where I am able to do that, then I sort of get kind of blocked out or stress. Stress is another thing just like if it just you know what, you’re in a stressful situations. But not so much food. No, I haven’t realized I haven’t noticed that one. I haven’t noticed that one.

Richard Lowe  18:26

Okay, and what’s your favorite thing about being an author?

Debbie Zaken  18:31

Um, favorite thing about being an author is sometimes people people’s reactions. When you tell them you’re an author, that’s kind of funny. Everybody thinks that Oh, wow. You know, I mean, that’s that’s been really a pretty cool to see how people react when you tell them I’m an author, that you’re actually have a book and that I’ve enjoyed a lot. You know, I I do love just I love being in my head and other stories and other places. And I think that’s one of my favorite things is when you when it works and when the words are flowing. And when you’re you know, your mind is constantly going there and you want to you know what you’re doing you know, you’re doing your your routine and you want to find that time to go back into your story and connect with your characters. That’s really the best, the best feeling.

Richard Lowe  19:22

And I noticed you you’ve published with a publishing company, you’re not self published.

Debbie Zaken  19:26

No, no, I’m not self published oftentimes is. It’s a small micro publisher. They’re actually based out of England. And they they specialize in young adult and mostly fantasy sci fi horror. So genres like that. i They’re a great publishing company. They’re very, very kind of cutting edge and really good with marketing and social media. I’m actually really, really happy with them.

Richard Lowe  19:59

Now Have you seen your books and libraries yet?

Debbie Zaken  20:02

You know, I have seen that. Well, I’ve seen them when people have sent me pictures. So people, other people outside of my area where I live has sent me pictures of out libraries even as far as Canada that have the book locally, I don’t know. I haven’t been able to. Luckily, it seems to be a little harder, I guess when other people requested. It’s easier than when you request your own book.

Richard Lowe  20:26

Of course, what about bookstores? Have you seen it in bookstores? Yes.

Debbie Zaken  20:29

No, not yet. I have it. It’s available Barnes and Nobles online, but it’s not available at store. And it isn’t available in stores. Because my publisher, like I said, is based out of England, it is available in some bookstores in England. But my where I live, we don’t really have a lot of indie published indie bookstores, unfortunately, I wish we did. And so it’s kinda hard to get in there, we really only have target. And I don’t know, that’s really what we have here. Okay, but not yet. Yeah, maybe the next one?

Richard Lowe  21:05

Now, if what would you tell other writers some tips about how they can maintain productivity or how they can become writers or whatever is on your mind.

Debbie Zaken  21:15

So anytime people have asked me about how to, you know, they want to write a story, or they are writing, what do they do, the things that I have always that I always tell them that have really helped me is one to connect with other writers, either online, or locally, I think that for me, joining local critique groups was really, really helpful. Beyond the social media, but you know, when you when you meet other people, other writers who are going through the same things as you are, it just, it makes a huge difference. And when you find writers who have, you know, the ability to critique group who has the ability to really give you that kind of feedback, that maybe friends and family might not be able to, because they’re not looking at it through that perspective of a writer and what really makes up a story. It’s that that to me is really, really very, very important. The other thing that helped me a lot was finding, aside from the critique groups, the face to face critique groups, I have three critique critique partners that I work with, who live in different places. And, you know, to me, they’re my friends, even though I’ve never met them. But, you know, we exchange manuscripts, and I’ve worked with them for years. And that is also very, very helpful. I think that those two things because then you start getting real onpoint feedback, and you start learning from other writers, and you start gaining an understanding of what the process of publishing really, really is, at least in terms of, I don’t know about self publishing, but in terms of traditional or, or smaller indie publishing. It’s, I mean, it’s, it’s, there’s so much to learn. I mean, it’s, it’s a, it’s a daunting process in the beginning. So I think that those two things are very, very helpful.

Richard Lowe  23:09

Any cautions to writers should have when they’re going into this business.

Debbie Zaken  23:14

Um, know that it’s not easy. No, know that you most likely will be rejected a lot, a lot. Know that some people might tell you even you know, some people in industry might tell you, Well, this is I’m sorry, but this is not good. But you keep going and you keep learning. And feedback is really important. And accepting feedback and implementing it in a way that works for you and your story without compromising. But being open to that feedback is really important. Because we, as authors, as writers, we’re too close to our stories, and we don’t, what we understand doesn’t necessarily mean that our readers will understand. And so I think that being open to feedback is very important as well, but know that it’s a, it’s a long and hard process with a lot of bumps in the road. But it’s, it’s amazing. It’s amazing. If you really love it. I kind

Richard Lowe  24:19

of liken it to him opening up my soul and letting people take a look.

Debbie Zaken  24:23

Yes, it really is. It really is. I still even when I go and share my work with critique partners. I still get nervous because it’s still it’s nerve wracking to share your work with other people. It really is. But because you’re right, I mean, it’s your you pour your heart and soul into this. But that’s one of the things you’ve had to do as a writer. That’s why they say you need to have thick skin to be a writer.

Richard Lowe  24:48

It’s very true, in fact that have you gone to Amazon and found a negative review that you really hated.

Debbie Zaken  24:55

So very early on, my publisher said Don’t look at Goodreads and don’t look at Amazon don’t look at reviews, good reviews will come to you. And I have tried to do that for the most part. Someone else will give me a suggestion of having a sort of like, review buddy, having somebody else who you trust, go calm, you know, whenever every so often and check reviews and send you either screenshots or whatever it is of the really good ones. Because yeah, the the ones that, you know, the bad ones could just really very much tear your hair out. And, you know, it happens though. I mean, if you go on Goodreads, and you look up any I mean, you can look up Harry Potter, and there will be people there that are like, this is the worst thing, you know. So you just have to take everything with a grain of salt and know that not everybody’s gonna love your book the same way you don’t love every single book that you read and just kind of move forward.

Richard Lowe  25:56

Yeah, I remember I have a book on and good reads. I found this review of it. I should never read and it went on for pages where she was critiquing every chapter and every character. And she gave it a one star. I was like, Oh my God.

Debbie Zaken  26:11

It’s a lot of time to put into something that you like, didn’t like like, why not just move on?

Richard Lowe  26:17

Finally, really must be hit some chord with her because she spent must have been hours writing a review.

Debbie Zaken  26:22

Yeah. Yeah. So I try to remember what I was told Goodreads is for readers, not for authors. So that’s what I tried to do. And honestly, the good reviews, they really have kind of come to me. I mean, that’s amazing. When you’re, you know, on a Sunday, and you’re just in your house doing whatever, and all of a sudden you get a tweet or, or something from from a reader saying, Oh, this was such an amazing book. And then you know, they tag you on like the review that they did. That’s really awesome. That’s really awesome.

Richard Lowe  26:53

Yeah, it is first the first time I got a really good review that like, Thank you.

Debbie Zaken  27:00

You want to print it out and put them on your wall. So you can remember every time you’re you want to grow your laptop onto the floor, whatever.

Richard Lowe  27:07

Do a dance. Well, that’s about all the time we have. Do you have any closing remarks?

Debbie Zaken  27:14

Now just thank you so much for for having me. And I really enjoyed it. Thank you.

Richard Lowe  27:19

It’s my pleasure. Thank you for listening to author talks with Richard Lowe. I’ve just been talking with Debbie zaken, who’s a young adult sci fi author. And if you liked this video, there’ll be one or two a week and you can subscribe down below. Thank you very much. Thank you Debbie.

Debbie Zaken  27:37

Thank you

Richard Lowe

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