Celise Downs is the author of an exciting new Young Adult series called The Draven Atreides, Teenage FBI series, featuring an African-American girl who is recruited by the FBI as an informant. In this interview, Downs talks about her inspiration for her books and her writing habits, among other things. Her dedication and discipline for the craft should inspire many aspiring writers.
Why don’t you begin by telling us a little about yourself?
I was born and raised in Phoenix, Ariz. I've been a newlywed of 1 year and 6 months, and I'm a huge fan of James Bond movies (Sean and Pierce only, although Daniel Craig isn't doing too bad), martial arts movies, Betty Boop, and Linkin Park. I'm also seriously addicted to reading adult romance books (particularly the Harlequin Blaze series) and watching Bones, Smallville, Supernatural and Heroes.
When did you decide you wanted to become an author?
During the 7th grade. My best friend and I were killing some time after lunch. She suggested we write stories and exchange them. I don't remember if she ever finished hers, but I did. And I wanted to keep going with it. So I did. When I reached high school, I knew that I wanted to write for teens. My friends led much more exciting lives than me. My favorite phrase back then was "Better be careful. This might end up in one of my books." Eventually, I'd like to branch out to adult romance, but for now, I think I still have something to offer the Young Adult genre. All of my books are based in Phoenix, Ariz., so all out of state – and out of the country – readers will get glimpses of my hometown.
Were you an avid reader as a child? What type of books did you enjoy reading?
Oh yes, and I thank my Mother for that. She read to my older sister and I a lot when we were young. I liked reading anything by Beverly Cleary, until I hit high school. Then it was adult romance books all the way.
Tell us a bit about your latest book, and what inspired you to write such a story.
My third book is called A Royale Pain. It's Book One in the Draven Atreides, Teenage FBI series. The series is about a 16-yr-old African-American girl (Draven Atreides) who's recruited by the FBI as an informant. I refer to it as "Nancy Drew with a twist." I was inspired to create this series by two things: 1) my niece and 2) the former TV shows Alias and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. My niece is smart, funny, and has such a strong sense of self that I wanted to create a character with some of her traits. Alias and Buffy were two of my favorite shows at the time. They portrayed females who were mentally and physically strong, and independent. There was the anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better message attached to the shows and I think that's why they were so popular. It gave teen girls hope that, while there's no need for vampire slayers, it's possible that they can become CIA operatives.
I wanted to create a series that was a cross between kick-butt and innocence. While there are a few teen espionage series out there, none of them have an African-American female heroine. Unlike those other series, there are no teams, no special training, no disguises, no traveling to exotic locales, and no secret departments within secret agencies; it's just Draven, working as an informant for a well-known agency, ridding Phoenix of some of those lesser "wanted" criminals. You can get to know her a little better by checking out her blog, 1-800-SNITCH.
Did your book require a lot of research?
My intention was to meet and interview a female FBI agent, to get perspective from that point of view. She declined to answer the questions I had sent to her and directed me to the FBI website. It was definitely an interesting process to even get that far.
As a writer, what scares you the most?
Running out of ideas.
When writing, what themes do you feel passionate about?
Loyalty to family and friends. Since it's something that I live by, I find myself instilling the same values in my characters.
Are you a disciplined writer?
Yes. Even though I am a non-traditionally published author, I still create deadlines for myself. I have no agent or editor to keep me on track, so I have to be accountable when I fall behind. In Writing Mode, I write for an hour during my lunch as well as during my two 15 min breaks; my goal is to write a page a day, but I usually end up writing more.
Do you have any unusual writing quirks?
No one sees the material until it's completely done, which is why a critique group would never work for me. The few times I've let someone read my works in progress, I was struck with writer's block for long periods of time. Now, I know better.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? What seems to work for unleashing your creativity?
Oh yes, and boy, have I suffered. I set the work aside and wait until I hear the voices of my characters in my head. Or I start thinking about dialogue or scenes. Then I know to jump back in.
What is (are) your favorite book/author(s)? Why?
My favorite book is Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein. The poems are so quirky and funny. I love it. My parents gave me that book when I was young and I still have it. Currently, I'll read anything by Sark. She has a method called Micro Movements that helps her tackle seemingly overwhelming projects and I apply that method to my writing. It's great and it works for me.
What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
Edit, edit, edit.
Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?
Yes, it's CeliseDowns.com.
Do you have another book on the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects?
The Draven Atreides, Teenage FBI series will be my main focus. I plan to have 10 books in the series. A Royale Pain (Book One) will be released April 17, 2009, on Teen Literature Day. Book Two, A Whole Latte Trouble, will be released in Oct 2010, during Teen Read Week (date subject to change). I also might try writing adult romance, but start out with a short story first, just to get my feet wet.
Anything else you’d like to say about yourself or your work?
To introduce people to the series, and Draven, I'm currently posting the unedited version of A Royale Pain on my blog. 'Miss Snitch Mondays' occur, well, every Monday, where I will be posting a few pages each week until release day. This is basically the first draft of the book, before I sent it off to my editor and didn't really do much of a spell check (I'm almost done with revisions and will be sending it back to my editor soon). It's pretty raw. At the end of each post, blog readers will be able to get on the Pre-Order Notification List and have a chance to order the book at a discount.
I'm also the President of Youthful Wisdom Press, a traditionally independent company that publishes fiction and non-fiction written by teens, ages 13-17. We will be accepting submissions starting June 1. Currently, the site is being re-designed and should be done by the end of this month. Interested parties can get on the Notification List by sending their name and email address to email@example.com.
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