© 2013 Clive Eaton
Author Bio: Maria DeVivo is a New York native who has had a lifelong love affair with "the pen." A graduate of St. John's University with a BA in English Literature, she has a passion for all things mystical and mythological. She has taught 7th grade Language Arts since 2000, and in 2010, designed the curriculum for an academic elective course entitled Folklore, where she has been able to share her passion and knowledge on concentrated topics such as folktales and mythology with her students.
Having grown up in a large Irish/Italian family (where Maria is the oldest child, and of course, the wisest) the mystery and wonder surrounding the holidays were a main staple of her upbringing. At the age of seven, when her mother finally admitted "the truth" to her, she has become somewhat of a "Santa-phile", an obsession that has rooted its way into every fiber of her being. Maria is one of those people who cry when Santa makes His grand appearance at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Coupled with an obsession for all things dark and demented, her debut novel, The Coal Elf, was born.
Maria now lives in Florida with er husband, Joe, and daughter, Morgan. When not teaching or writing or running around after her daughter, she enjoys drinking iced coffee, watching horror movies, and playing video games.
Book title: The Coal Elf
Brief Synopsis: Ember Skye is a fed up teenage Coal Elf with a big ashy chip on her shoulder. Having been torn away from a carefree life and forced into a world of dirt and darkness has started to get the best of her. And being the only girl-elf working as a coal miner at the North Pole doesn’t help much either!
Then there’s Sturd: a power-hungry, twisted elf with a checkered past and a serious grudge against Ember. Slowly but surely, his maniacal tendencies are revealed, leaving Ember with the sacred “Naughty List” literally in her lap.
When a mysterious illness threatens to decimate elves both Above and Underground, Ember is thrust into a journey that will see her confront the literal and figurative demons of her past and lead her to the head of the North Pole himself.
Yes! Santa is real. But this isn’t your childhood Christmas tale!
What do you do to relax when you are not writing?
I spend a lot of time with my family. Movies, playing at the park, etc. Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of time to read as much as I would like.
What, or who, inspired you to become a writer?
I fell in love with words at a very young age. I think my earliest inspiration was my father because he really expanded my mind in a creative way. He used to tell me all kinds of twisted fairy tales that he would make up, and he always encouraged me to keep a diary and write poetry. He was my first fan!
What or who inspired you to write your current novel?
I was teaching in NY in 2004, and it was time for our annual Christmas party. Being the “goth-chic” that I am, I bought a black velvet Santa Claus hat and wore it to the party. All of my students commented on it saying, “Mrs. DeVivo, you look like a bad elf!” So, I replied, “Yea, you’re all getting coal in your stocking this year!” From there, something just clicked. I knew I had to tell the story of the elves that mine the coal.
Tell us three interesting facts about your book which are not covered in the synopsis.
1) I make a lot of references to Christmas and Christmas mythology, but I wouldn’t outright say this is a Christmas book. Christmas is just a vehicle for the setting and plot.
2) There are a lot of my personal secrets written into the book!
3) The concept for the story developed in 2004, but I didn’t write the first three chapters until 2006. Then, I had to put everything on hold and the novel wasn’t complete until 2010.
What research did you need to do for this book?
A lot of it was based from traditional Christmas-lore (which, being the oldest of 5 and teaching a class on mythology, I’m pretty well-versed in). I did do some digging and pulled out some lesser-known tidbits about the holiday that I was able to weave in, but the majority of it was me twisting the pre-existing concepts. I did research mining and the parts of the cave because I wanted the setting of the Mines to be as authentic as possible.
Are any elements/characters of your book based on real life experiences or people you’ve met/known?
Of course. I think that each character is infused with a little bit of me and a little bit of people that I know. I can’t name names, though! ;) The main characters all have very extreme and very distinct personalities.
Tell us a little about your current work-in-progress:
Currently, I am working on the sequel to THE COAL ELF. It’s in the early stages right now, but it’s shaping up to be darker than the first. The Council is definitely going to play a larger role, and all the main characters will be back and thrust into yet another “dire situation!”
What process did you adopt from inception through to the finished book?
I keep a notebook and organize it in such a way that there are chapter outlines and character bios. I don’t put too much detail into the outlines, just the main points that I want to address in each chapter. When I sit down to actually write, that’s when the pieces of the puzzle start to come together.
What do you need (or not need) around you whilst writing?
I need to be alone at my computer, however, Facebook is my vice! I get so easily distracted sometimes, but that can be a good thing because it gives me those needed “brain-breaks”. I’m very disciplined and stick to a set schedule because if I don’t push myself, I know I’ll procrastinate and never get anything done.
How easy did you find it getting a publisher?
Finding a publisher was not easy. I queried anyone and everyone I could find, and the same response I got was that they all thought THE COAL ELF was “too weird.” I queried agents and publishers in March 2011, and for 7 months and the tune of over 100 rejections, I was on the verge of giving up. By November, Lida Quillen of Twilight Times Books contacted me and said that my query had been sent to her spam box and she was interested. Coincidentally, I was in negotiations to sign with The Carolyn Jenks Agency regarding my second manuscript! So, when good luck rains down, sometimes it pours!
What were the three biggest challenges you faced when writing your book?
1) Time: My schedule allowed me 3 days a week for 8 weeks. I’m a teacher and my goal was to get it down over the summer break.
2) Time: My husband read the very first draft of the manuscript and basically tore it to shreds. He was disappointed because he said he knew I could do much better. This was my very first shot at writing a complete novel, and I wrote more from my heart than from a technical “writer’s standpoint.” There were tremendous plot holes and the character development wasn’t very strong. From August 2010 – March 2011, I spent whatever extra time I had editing, and editing, and editing, and editing…
3) ?? Just TIME! J
Every author seems to suffer with writer’s block at some point. How do you overcome it?
I don’t get writer’s block, believe it or not. Because I’m a teacher and a little on the OCD-side, I have a very structured and disciplined way that I stick to when I write. Summer vacation is the only time I write. 8 weeks. June – August. Done. Then I give my brain a rest for a good 2 months straight and focus on my teaching. When winter break comes around in December, the wheels start turning and I start jotting down notes, snippets of conversations, theme words, character names, etc. This gives me a general idea to begin my outline. But by June, I’m in hard-core writing mode. I think having that time to process and turn my brain “off” from writing definitely helps.
What single piece of advice would you give to any aspiring writer?
Okay, so I know this is going to sound silly and cheesy and oh-so-cliché, but the truth of the matter is this: don’t stop writing and don’t give up. If getting published is your dream, then go for it 100%. Read everything you can… street signs, cereal boxes, newspaper articles, etc. Fluency and vocabulary are so important. Grow a thick skin. The “author world” can be a very harsh place, and being able to take criticism is only going to help you to grow as a writer and as a person. Okay, I think that was more than a single piece of advice. Sorry. Sometimes I don’t know when to shut up!
What genre does your book fall into?
YA Dark Fantasy. I had one reviewer call it Steampunk… maybe because of the Mines setting. But it’s definitely dark. Definitely fantasy. And definitely geared for the YA crowd (although adults seem to be enjoying it just as much!)
How did you get interested in this specific genre?
When I was a little kid, my mother took me to the movies a lot. Two of the movies I distinctly remember seeing were “Creepshow” and “The Last Unicorn”. Those films had such a profound impact on my way of thinking, and from then on, I have always been attracted to anything spooky or otherworldly.
You as a reader
Which three authors have inspired you the most, and why?
1) Edgar Allan Poe – as an impressionable high school student, I found such beauty in the darkness. It was comforting to know that it was “ok” to think dark.
2) Anne Rice – no one can tell a horror story like Rice! Her descriptions, both obvious and subtle, make every page come to life.
3) Dr. Seuss – words are meant to be played with and enjoyed! There is true magic in the written word!
What was your favourite book as a child?
“There’s a Wocket in My Pocket” by Dr. Seuss.
What is the best book you’ve read in the last 12 months?
“Jurassic Park” I really haven’t read much besides children’s books with my 4 year old, but when “JP” came out on the Kindle, I had to do it!
What was the last book you recommended to a friend, and why did you think it was worthy of recommendation?
So, all my girl-friends were reading that book that got a lot of buzz last year (the one with the number in the title), and I told them about Anne Rice’s series of a similar nature. Their eyes were definitely opened after that one!
Hollywood is calling
You’ve had the call from Hollywood and they want your opinion on who should play the leading roles in the film based upon your book. Who would you choose, and why?
I see THE COAL ELF as being a CG film (because of the fantasy setting and characters). But not “Toy Story” CG, more of the type that was used in the “Beowulf” film a few years back. I would love to see Emma Stone or Dakota Fanning as Ember, and Jonah Hill as Barkuss. J I’m on the fence about Sturd, though. Not sure which young actor can fill his rotted boots!
The film of your book is now going to need a soundtrack. Which musician(s) would you want to write and play it?
I hear some rock going on, but emotional rock… along the lines of Evanescense.
Drink – Iced coffee
Meal – Chicken cutlet parm
Holiday destination – NY in the fall
TV programme – “The Walking Dead” and “Dexter”
Film – “Terminator 2”
Method of travel – CRUISING!
Sport – I don’t like sports.
How can people connect with you?
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