Friday, December 23, 2011

Indie author interview with Elise Stokes, author of the Cassidy Jones adventures

My latest guest is Elise Stokes, independent author of the outstanding MG novels, Cassidy Jones and the Secret Formula and Cassidy Jones and Vulcan's Gift. Both books are setting fire to the indie sales lists, and garnering great reviews, too. She is also part of Artesian Books, a real innovation in the world of electronic publishing.

I asked Elise to share her thoughts on writing, on being an author and on the business of bringing your work to an audience.

What is your goal as a writer? What are you trying to achieve with your writing—other than financial reasons, or trying to sell a lot of copies, why do you write?
Not to be dramatic, but when I write I feel like I can breathe. It’s like yoga for the brain. All the pressures of living on planet Earth just sort of melt away when I lose myself in this really cool world I’ve created in my head. Plus, it’s fun sharing this world with others, especially when they think it’s pretty cool, too.

Is there a central theme for your writing? One message you are trying to get across?
I really don’t have an agenda. I just want to entertain my readers. But if I had to pull a theme from this series it would be learning to be comfortable in your own skin. There’s a reason Cassidy is very fourteen. I want young readers to relate to her, see themselves in her and experience her victories as if they were their own. In other words, I want Cassidy to be a role model and to give girls her age a glimpse of what they can overcome and achieve. Guess I do have an agenda after all. 

Who do you think is your audience? Do you have a specific reader in mind for your books?
My target audience are girls ages 12 to 16. However—much to my delight—this series has proven to have great crossover appeal. Both genders, young and old alike, are Cassidy fans. I guess the action and bigger-than-life, Marvel-like characters makes the girl drama tolerable for the boys. Really, there is a lot going on in my stories.

What is one deep aspect of your main character, Cassidy Jones, that you did not specifically describe in your story, but that you hope that your readers discover or work out on their own?
Cassidy sees those she loves and trusts through rose-colored glasses. This is good for the reader to keep in mind since the story is being told by Cassidy. Her perception could be influenced by this flaw.

 How would you describe your own writing style?I like stories that are fast-paced, have a goal, and are light on description but heavy on dialogue. In fact, I tend to skim through description to dialogue. I like learning about characters via their interaction with one another. So it comes as no surprise that this is how I also write. But I’m not a seasoned writer, so my writing style isn’t set in stone. It can be easily influenced by what I’m reading. This is one reason why I avoid reading when I’m writing.
What is your writing technique or process? For example, do you write in the mornings, or late through the night? Do you use outlines?
I plot out how to reach “the unveiling” in a skeleton outline. My goal is to keep everything relevant in the story, threaded together so tightly that my editor can’t find anything to shave off. For the most part, I write while my kids are at school. I’ve tried to write at night, but frankly I can hardly form an intelligible tweet after 9 p.m.

How many drafts of Cassidy Jones and the Secret Formula did you write before you published it?
Two: first draft and the rewrite. Aside from a few short stories in high school and college and the “novel” I wrote in 6th grade, Cassidy Jones and the Secret Formula is my first real writing attempt and the story just sort of flowed. This is not the case with the second book in the series, Cassidy Jones and Vulcan’s Gift, which was released the first week of December. That one dragged me through the woods! It was well worth the fight, however, because the result of all the toil and frustration is an unpredictable storyline and a very cool super villain that I can truly be proud of.
Are your characters based on people you actually know?
My youngest inspired Cassidy’s brother Chazz. My son has a huge imagination. If he’s taken with a character in a movie, he usually pauses the video so he can throw together a makeshift costume of the character, which he is really good at doing. The kid has an eye for detail. The first time he watched Indiana Jones he dug out a white dress shirt and left it unbuttoned almost to his navel. I’d never even noticed Indie showed that much chest before.

Though I didn’t intend this, Cassidy’s personality is a lot like mine. We share the same sense of humor, quirky ways, and shyness, which strikes us at the most random times. We are also loyal to the bone and can be rather hard on ourselves. I burdened Elizabeth, Cassidy’s mother, with my obsession of keeping a clean house. Years ago my husband had dubbed me “The Midnight Mopper.” Writing this series has forced me to lower my standards, though things can still get a little ugly around here on Saturdays, “family house cleaning day.”

If you could actually meet your villain in person, what would you like to say to him?
I’d say, “Arthur King Junior! Shut your trap!” The guy never stops talking.

What one marketing technique do you think has brought you the most sales?
Goodreads giveaways. It is the best opportunity out there for a new writer to get discovered by readers. Thousands of members participate in the drawings, and hundreds will enter for your novel. Incredible exposure and well worth the price of a paperback and shipping. I suggest listing your novel on a regular basis until reviews start to build. Credibility is crucial, because who’s going to risk wasting money on an unknown product?

Tell me about what you're working on that will help other independent authors find an audience?That would be Artesian Books, an online book retailer created for independent authors and small publishers that my husband Dave and I are launching soon. We’re offering quality books to our customers with incentives to keep them coming back, perks for book reviewers and bloggers, and opportunities to our vendors that are currently only attainable with top retailers to big house publishers with deep pockets. We have essentially created a new business model, which is much needed in this floundering world of publishing. As an author, I’m excited what this could mean for my series as well as for the works of other authors who become affiliate members. It’s a sweet opportunity for an indie.

Thank you, and happy holidays, Elise!


  1. GREAT interview! Thanks so much for posting this. I've already gone to check out Artesian Books.

  2. Great interview! Thank you! I love it when interviewers encourage writers to share things about their writing process that go beyond the typical revelations. Bravo, Scott!

    Writing as yoga for the brain, I love it.

  3. My nine year old daughter loves Cassidy Jones! She talks about her like she's a real person--what a compliment to Elise Jones.

    Your costume guy needs to hook up with mine!