Majanka Verstraete

I’d like to introduce you to the twenty-third interviewee in my ‘Meet the Author’ series. She is Majanka Verstraete.

QUESTION: Hi, Majanka! Welcome to Susan Finlay Writes blog site. I’ve heard that you began reading when you were in kindergaarten, and writing stories when you were seven years old. Can you tell us more about your writing background?

ANSWER: I wrote my first story when I was seven years old. I vaguely recall it had something to do with a witch, an orphan, and time travel. The writing wasn’t very good, of course, and the end result was only about thirty pages, but the story was imaginative at least. I continued writing, my stories progressively growing longer. One day I had a 500-page finished manuscript I sent off to a publisher. The result was a rejection. Looking back on it, that shouldn’t have been a surprise. The book was way too long and some chapters went nowhere. Either way, I stopped writing for a long while. Years.

Then about three years ago, I started writing again. In English, this time. I don’t know why I decided to give writing another shot, but this time around, I loved it even more. The language barrier was a bit difficult though. My native language is Dutch, and although I’d say I’m reasonably fluid in English, some errors are bound to slip through the cracks.

I managed to get a deal for the first book I wrote in English, which would be ‘Fractured’. That inspired me to keep on writing, and expand into other genres. I initially wrote for young adults, but now I also write children’s fiction. I love writing for kids of all ages.

QUESTION: Your children’s picture book, ‘Valentina and the Haunted Mansion,’ is the first in a new series, and will be published in May, 2013, by Evolved Books. How did you come up the story idea?

ANSWER: I was in the middle of university exams, and surprisingly enough my creativity is always at its highest when I have to focus on other things. I was browsing through the AbsoluteWrite forums and noticed a topic about picture books and how to write them.

I’d never tried writing a picture book before, but it sounded like fun, so I gave it a shot. I came up with this crazy idea of a vampire girl who’d just moved into a large mansion and found out it was haunted. I’ve always been a big fan of monsters and vampires and feel like there aren’t enough books for younger children that feature monsters.

I came down for lunch and told my Mom about my story idea, and she thought I was crazy. She went on and on about how something like that would be way too scary for kids. I gave her the Casper the Friendly Ghost argument. She still insisted it was a stupid idea, but I thought it sounded like a fun idea.

QUESTION: Two more Valentina books will be released later this year. Are they already written? Can you tell us about them? Do you have more planned?

ANSWER: If it were up to me, the Valentina series would probably have like 15 books or more. I hope my publisher thinks the same! Either way, the second book is already written, and I’m working on the third.

In the second book, Valentina and the Whackadoodle Witch, a witch named Whackadoodle drops down the chimney of Valentina’s new house. The witch gets stuck in the chimney, and hilarity ensues.

Since I’m still working on the third book, I can’t really tell you more about it, except that it’ll feature a mummy. Who’s wearing a mask.

QUESTION: The first book in your lower grade chapter book series, Weirdville, will be released in July, 2013. Can you tell us about the series? Who is the publisher? Where do you get your inspirations?

ANSWER: The Doll Maker, the first book in the Weirdville series, will be published by Evolved Publishing. The second and third book in the series will probably release in September, with an omnibus edition in December.

I’ve always been a fan of horror books, even when I was a little kid. Just give me ghouls and monsters, and I’m happy. So when I was younger, I devoured the Spooksville books by Christopher Pike, Fear Street and Goosebumps by R.L. Stine, and many more. Most of these books however were aimed at middle graders, and I wanted to do something along those lines, but for a younger audience.

That’s how the Weirdville series was born. It’s a series of lower grade chapter books set in Weirdville, a small, rural town where all kinds of strange things happen. The books won’t feature the same main characters, so they can all be read as stand-alones.

QUESTION: Your debut young adult novel, Fractured, is the first book in the Mirrorland series. It will be published by InkSpell Publishing. Can you tell us a bit about the book?

ANSWER: Fractured was actually the first English book I ever wrote. It started out as a novella, but when I reread it, I knew it had to be longer to make sense. So I started adding chapters until it became novel-length, and then it went through another few rounds of edits. By the time I was finished, I realized I hadn’t written a stand-alone, but the first part of a series.

In Fractured, main character Piper finds an antique mirror on the attic of her new home. She brings the mirror downstairs, intriqued by its beautiful design and eye for detail. But as soon as she hangs the mirror in her bedroom, strange things start to happen.

She hears noises in the middle of the night, items move on their own, things aren’t where she left them. Piper grows convinced that the mirror may be haunted, but things are a lot more complicated than that. The mirror caused a girl to commit suicide fifty years ago. It’s been the object of a curse for centuries. With the help of her best friend Alison, Piper tries to figure out what’s going on before the mirror claims its next victim.

QUESTION: You work with two different publishers. What is that like? Is it difficult switching back and forth between them? Are their editing styles different?

ANSWER: My work with each publisher is very different, so thus far I haven’t had any trouble switching back and forth. My children’s books are with Evolved Publishing, and my YA books with InkSpell Publishing. Although InkSpell will primarily focus on contemporary romance novels in the future, so I may have to look for yet another publisher for my YA books, since I write paranormal romance mostly.

I’m pleased with both my publishers, even though their styles are quite different.

QUESTION: You are studying for your Masters at Law degree in Belgium. How do you find time for your studies and your writing?

ANSWER: I get that question a lot, and it always makes me smile. I’m a bit of a time-management guru (self-proclaimed, of course) and a workaholic. I study about six hours a day, sometimes up to eight and rarely up to ten. That includes classes. I try to write for at least an hour every day after that. Then I spend about two hours working on book tours for authors, a service I set up to make some money while I’m still in college. I also have a book review blog, I Heart Reading, and I spend at least half an hour every day writing reviews and posts for that blog. So yes, I’m a busy bee.

I’m not always in the mood to write after studying, or after a full day of class, but I make myself sit down and write. Writing is easier if you do it every day consistently than if you only do it once in a while.

QUESTION: On your website you offer a critique service? How did you get started with that? Do you edit manuscripts?

ANSWER: I came across an author who offered critique services, and began to think about it. My critique partners always tell me I’m very detailed and helpful with my critiques, and I’ve been doing it for about two years now. So why not make the step to giving paid critiques to people?

I’ve already had a few customers, mostly for my query letter critiques. So far I’ve had nothing but good comments.

I’d like to think there’s a difference between offering critique on someone’s manuscript as opposed to editing it. Basically, while giving critique, I do the same a good critique partner would do. Unfortunately those are rare to find, and when you do find them, they may be slow to get back to you and it may take forever to get your critiqued manuscript back. I point out errors I find in the text, but I also pay attention to word choice, character development, plot points and plot holes, setting, consistency, etc.

QUESTION: What is your favorite or least favorite part of writing?

ANSWER: My favorite part of writing is that moment when you know you’re almost done with your first draft. Like, you have about 5k words to go, you know what you wanted to write, how you want to write it, and you just have to get those words out and then you’re done. No better feeling in the world than when you’re done with a first draft, or almost done with it, and the finish line is near.

In general though, my favorite part of writing is outlining. That’s where the creativity begins, where I can conjure ideas out of my hat and come up with plot points, characters, quirks, setting and more. This is the most creative part about writing for me, and the part I enjoy the most.

I have two least favorite parts of writing. The first is starting a new novel. I’ve got the outline down, and I’m ready to start the first draft – but wow, does 70k sound like a near impossible goal. Of all my novels, the first 20k is the toughest. If I give up before I reach that mark, the story isn’t developed enough yet, it needs more ideas, or it just isn’t good enough to continue. And then that’s 20k and God knows how many hours wasted. But if I make it past 20k, I usually make it to the end.

My second least favorite part is editing and revising. I hate it. I’m talking about self-editing here, what happens after I’ve finished the first draft. About rewriting entire paragraphs and sometimes even pages. About cutting scenes and adding new scenes. It’s always a struggle because part of me wants to hold on to the original story, although I know the new version will be better.

QUESTION: Do you have a writing routine, a special place where you go to do your writing, or a certain time of day? Do you listen to music while you write, and if so, what kind of music?

ANSWER: I don’t really have a writing routine. I close Firefox (no internet distractions!) and start to write. I spend about 4 hours a week on the train (which means no internet) and I tend to work on my manuscripts on the train as well. But as long as the no-internet rule is in place, I’m happy.

I don’t listen to music while I write because it distracts me. When an epic battle scene is coming up, or a very emotional scene, I may listen to some fitting music, but it’s not something I usually do, just when I’m struggling with the scenes.

QUESTION: How do you get past writers’ block or distractions like the internet?

ANSWER: When I can’t stop glancing at the internet every now and then, I go cold turkey. Pull out the internet cable and be done with it. Or sit out on the balcony where I have no internet connection. Or take my laptop with me to the university library and work a few hours from there.

When I have writer’s block because I’m struggling with a particular scene, I tell myself to just write it. Even if it sucks, even if it’s completely stupid, write the scene, move past the difficult stuff, and get back to the story. That usually works for me. I can always get back to the scene later on, or during rewrites.

QUESTION: Please list any websites or social media links for yourself or your book. Thanks!

My website:
My Facebook page:
Twitter: @iheartreads