Q & A with Amanda Zieba

Amanda ZiebaThis week I’m honored to interview the amazing author Amanda Zieba whose YA sci-fi novel, Breaking the Surface, is followed by the sequel, Bridging the Tides, which will be released on Tuesday May 12.

Q. Welcome Amanda! In the first book, Breaking the Surface, readers are introduced to an underwater world where scientists are working to discover a safe product to cleanse the ocean from the pollution caused by humans. Book two, Bridging the Tides, focuses on how the teens and the adults solve the problems caused by the PE-328 release. How much scientific research did you invest in this series?

A. As a reader one of my favorite genres is historical fiction because not only can I enjoy a fantastic adventure, but I also learn something while I am reading. As both a teacher and an author, I wanted my readers to have a similar experience, learning interesting facts while they enjoy my story. When I began writing Breaking the Surface I did do a lot of research. The series was inspired by a documentary entitled: Deep Sea (a film by: Howard Hall). In this movie, the narrators describe the incredible landscapes and creatures of our oceans. The images instantly sparked ideas in my creative mind, but it was the statement that “there is more uncharted territory in the oceans on here Earth than in all of outer space” that really stuck with me. I was shocked! How could we know less about our own planet than we do about places millions of light years away? This question was the first in an avalanche of musings that carried me to the internet, National Geographic magazines, the library and multiple re-viewings of Deep Sea. As I wrote the story, I tried very hard to be as factual as possible, keeping the animal characteristics/ocean details/scientific realities as true as possible. By the time I got to Bridging the Tides, I knew what I needed to know and therefore was able to write it much more quickly. I did occasionally need to look up a thing or two like: what is the fastest fish in the ocean and what are the specific anatomic qualities of a starfish? I hope readers like discovering these little fact snippets sprinkled throughout the story.

Q. For those who have not read book one, how difficult will it be for readers to follow Bridging the Tides?

A. Bridging the Tides picks up right where Breaking the Surface left off. If you start with Bridging the Tides, oodles of important background information including the explanation of the major conflict will be lost to you, leaving you with a mind full of questions. Funny story, my grammatical editor for Bridging the Tides had not read the Breaking the Surface and as she read, she marked up the page with all these questions about the plot. I felt horrible that I put her through pages and pages of a poor reading experience because she had no idea what was going on! So yes, if you have not read Breaking the Surface, definitely start there first!

Q. What made you decide to end Breaking the Surface with a cliffhanger?

A. I had a lot of frustrated readers when they got to the end of Breaking the Surface and found the problem unresolved. I purposely left the characters hanging to create suspense and a strong desire to read the second book. But don’t worry, I won’ torture you the same way again. Bridging the Tides ends with a solid resolution, hopefully leaving readers satisfied. I do not have plans to write another book in this series, but if I should ever decide to return to the underwater world of the ARK, I feel I left left room for more stories down there.

Q. It took you seven years to start this series. How long did it take to write Bridging the Tides? Does it get easier to write once a series has been started? Or are there unexpected challenges readers don’t know about that you’d like to share?

A. From start to finish Bridging the Tides took 8 months, which is infinitely faster than it took me to write the first book. I started it in November 2014 as my first attempt at NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, a challenge to write 50,000 words in one month). I didn’t reach the goal of 50,000 words, but I had a pretty good start (24,000). In addition to being a writer, I am also a mom, wife and full time middle school teacher. It is tricky to balance all of the loves of my life, but thanks to my very supportive husband who works hard to carve out time for me to write, I was able to complete this novel. I write on Wednesdays after school for 2-3 hours (Writing Wednesdays!), after my sons go to bed and on the weekends. I am not a plotter. I write the most vivid scenes dancing around in my mind first and then afterward go back and link them together. I tried to write this book chronologically. I got to chapter 17 before I gave up and went back to my haphazard all over the place writing process. The further I got into the story, the faster the words came. Some of the plot elements required a lot of think time, but once I had those figured out, it got easier.

Q. How has teaching middle school students influenced your writing?

A. Teaching middle school has been a great blessing for my writing. It makes me strongly believe in the benefits of not majoring in writing while in college or taking it up as your first career. In the middle school setting I am constantly surrounded by living breathing middle grade protagonists. I hear their dialogue, view their clothing styles, witness their heartbreaks, listen to their preferences… all on a daily basis. I also am acutely aware of what they select to read. This is a wealth of information that I would be missing out on, if I were not a teacher. I do my best to use this information to inform my writing style, inspire my character dialogue, and ultimately craft a story I know my students would enjoy. I also see the number of students uninterested in reading. I take it upon myself to hook them into great books every day at school, and at home, write ones that will hopefully do the same.

Q. What particular challenges do you face writing in the dystopian genre?

A. I’m not sure I would consider my novels dystopian. I feel like the environmental problems my characters face and try to solve are problems we have today. I’m sure there are people out there in our world trying to solve the problem of water pollution and oceanic habitat destruction, but just maybe not in the ways that I have described in my books. A message that I would like readers (especially middle grade and YA readers) to take away from the Surface Series is that even though there are problems in the world, there are ways to solve them. Additionally, I would like them to learn that they, even at a young age, can be a part of the solution. Finally, I hope to have communicated the importance of the bonds of family and friendship. No matter what happens in the world, no matter who you meet and no matter where you go, it is the way you treat those around you that matters.

Q. What is your next writing project?

A. My next writing project is a middle grade series about geocaching. Geocaching is a worldwide outdoor treasure hunt. Using handheld GPS receivers my main characters, twins Sam and Molly Ross, go on adventures around the US, hunting for geocaches and the treasures they hold inside. Geocaching is a great sport that combines technology, the outdoors and physical activity. I hope to add a love of reading to the recipe and come up with a hit. While I have self-published all of my books up to this point, I am planning to go the traditional publishing route with this series. I have begun working with a professional editor and this summer I will be rewriting my first draft according to the recommendations he has made.

Q. Where do you see yourself five years from now as an author?

A. In five years I hope to be writing full time. My very specific plan includes leaving my teaching career in 3 years when my youngest son goes to Kindergarten and my family is no longer burdened by the massive investment of daycare expenses. At that point in time I will have been writing professionally for 6 years. I will have 6 self-published titles (3 in the Orphan Train Riders Series, 2 in the Surface Series, and one picture book: Pauly Wants to Doodle All the Day- due out in summer 2015). In addition to the funds I make from these books, I hope to supplement my author income by doing school author visits, educational material sales via TeachersPayTeachers.com and other freelance jobs. Of course I hope to be writing more books as well. I have several book ideas circulating in my brain right now ranging from a YA medieval time period fantasy, and two clean romance novels for adults. All I need is the time to get them down on paper.

For more information about Amanda Zieba or her books, visit her on Facebook.