“I’ve Got Company!” I’m thrilled to introduce, author and MuseItUp Publisher, Lea Schizas.
Muse Online Writers Conference - an annual FREE conference hosted in October each year - and founder of Apollo's Lyre - an online ezine loaded with writing articles, poetry, flash fiction, interviews, and more...for writers and readers of every caliber and genre. Her websites have been mentioned in Writer's Digest top 101 writing sites, and won several awards in various categories in the Predators and Editors annual voting polls.
Lea is the author of The Halloween Dino Trip (Historical Fantasy Adventure) and The Rock of Realm (Fantasy Adventure) both for MuseItYoung an imprint of MuseItUp Publishing
Writers have referred to her as Mother Hen because of her caring nature to help and mentor writers around the world. She is thrilled to offer another way to help writers with MuseItUp Publishing.
I’ve invited Lea to give us a little insight in the roles she plays in today’s book publishing industry.
LF: Lea, welcome!
LS: Thank you for having me here today, Lisa. Truly an honor.
LF: The honor is all mine. I’m thrilled you were able to take some time out of your very busy schedule to share with us today.
Before we get started, I'd like to invite our blog visitors to comment after this interview for a chance to win a MuseItUp Bookstore Gift Certificate. I'll draw the name of the lucky winner on Monday August 29th at 8 am Eastern.
Lea, I’d love to know where you’re from.
LS: I was born and raised in Montreal, Quebec, and still here. There’s nothing like Montreal with its vast ethnic flavoring.
LF: As a Montrealer myself, I have to agree. Could you tell us a bit about your family?
LS: Well, my parents were both born in Greece and came to Canada in the early 1950s. Dad started off as a mechanic for Air Canada and then moved on to own his own BP garage station for many years before he retired. He’s always been my mentor and motivator. He passed away April 16, 2007 but his teachings and immense love instilled in all of his children has never ebbed.
LF: Parents play such an important role, with their words often everlasting. And from what I’ve heard, you have quite an entourage.
LS: Sure do! I am a mommy of five, kids ranging from 18 to 33, and of course a mommy to two doggies, Daisy (Shi Tsu) and Phiona (Bull Terrier). Dare I say I have a kid hubby? No? Yeah, you’re right, let’s just keep that out. Hehe!
LF: Oh no, we can leave that in, especially when one is in the arts, it’s wonderful when your partner is a kid at heart. It can make all the difference.
And what about you Lea, as a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
LS: I always knew I wanted to write, there’s no doubt about that. I had won several elementary writing contests and also an essay contest in high school. But there was always that ‘teacher’ side in me, wanting to teach elementary students. The closest I got was teaching my Barbies and Kens, teddy bears, and other stuffed creatures the art of compositions. LOL! They all passed…with flying colors, naturally.
LF: Well of course!
LS: And now, in some way, I am teaching…teaching writers the art of how to build that outer tough shell to make it as a writer.
LF: It didn’t take me long to figure out that about you. You really are nurturing and pass on wonderful, constructive advice. When you’re not busy mentoring authors, managing your hectic schedule and caring for your own children, what do you do to unwind and relax?
LS: I love to go to the movies or sit with the kids and either watch a movie together or watch them play a Play Station Game. But most of the time it’s editing, writing, or reading that truly relaxes me the most.
LF: I’d love to know what inspired you to start MuseItUp Publishing.
LS: There were several factors:
One being that it was in my long goal plan as the second to last thing to accomplish in my career. The other is to open up a bookstore, one that’s different, but I won’t go into details since I’m still mapping this last goal to achieve.
But the main reason, I have to admit is my desire to open a house where authors did not feel like authors but partners, helping shape and build our house, one we can all be proud of.
There have been way too many disgruntled authors who have emailed me at one point in their careers to let out their angst about how their publisher hasn’t responded, how their publisher is ignoring their emails, how their publisher this or that… Unfortunately, many of these authors have put away their writing pens for good because they have been disillusioned by small presses. These are the authors I want to help to show them small presses aren’t all molded from the same press…there are several who actually do care about the writers, who don’t see them as $$ signs, who respect their craft and understand that without these or any writer, a publishing house would not survive.
LF: I’m reminded of your motto: Building the team to achieve the dream! How long has MIU been in business?
LS: We officially registered February 2010, opened up for business end of February, opened up our bookstore October 2010 officially…so we’re shy almost two months of our first year anniversary when our bookstore opened up.
LF: Congratulations! You have quite an impressive list of creative talent at MIU. How did you gather them?
LS: I have to admit we were certainly blessed to have had the staff currently with us. I initially asked Delilah K. Stephans if she’d like to be our cover artist because I knew Delilah’s work. When she said yes, I do believe I jumped several feet high. With the very first cover she designed for our first Young Adult novel, Fallon O’Reilly and the Ice Queen’s Lair, I knew we were on the right path.
All of our editors had to do an editing test, and from about 20 initial registrations I believe there were 6-8 who passed and have been with us since the beginning. There are things on that editing test I look at specifically to evaluate. Other things can be missed but these elements must be caught before the editor is given a contract.
I also knew that we needed editors who were specifically knowledgeable in certain genres, for example, my partner, Litsa Kamateros, and I knew that we needed editors who were versed in sci-fi, some in thriller/mysteries, others in young adult, and so forth. If we had editors all knowledgeable in romance then I am sure these same editors would have done a great job, but not in the same fashion say an editor who knows exactly what makes a good mystery ‘a mystery.’
And our tech gal, Margaret Fisk, has been a great help teaching me what I needed to know to maintain our websites.
And last, and not least, our authors also have played a big part in shaping our house. It’s their stories that have captivated our editors and readers. So if there’s a round of applause that needs to go out, I would say it needs to go out to everyone involved in MuseItUp, from staff to authors.
LF: Wonderful! You know, every time I visit the MUI website, your roster seems to be getting bigger. How many authors do you have at this time?
LS: Oh my, I believe we have 180 currently.
LF: That’s amazing! Where are your authors based?
LS: They come from all over the world: Canada, United States, Greece, England, New Zealand…
LF: Lea, I have to know, how many hats do you wear at MIU?
LS: Well, some call me nuts and rightly so, but I’m from the old school that believes the beginning of any enterprise/business the ‘boss’ needs to ‘show by example’ so currently:
I edit, format, respond to submissions but I get tons of help from the editors who read and assess and send me their assessments, I promote online whereas my partner has begun to promote our print books to various businesses, I update and maintain our blogs, websites and bookstore. I will be dropping accepting editing in order to have more time to do the other stuff on my TO DO list, which by now reaches – if placed on the floor in a straight line – from Montreal to Toronto, for sure. But what motivates me? Passion-without a passion for what one does nothing would ever get accomplished.
LF: You certainly are not lacking in the Passion department. You’re gifted with it in spades. Tell me, what is your typical day like?
LS: I take the fifth on that in case I accidentally drive any of your readers as nutso as me. LOL! My day normally begins around 7a.m. and may finish anywhere between midnight to 2a.m.
LF: Incredible! Passion, dedication and stamina! You’re amazing! Where do you do all this work?
LS: I now have my own office my husband, son, and a friend of ours help built off my kitchen. Has its own separate entrance from outside, from the kitchen, and also a door to enter the garden. Lots of sunshine from these openings and two large windows. And the size is really nice: 11.5 by 19 feet. Before that it would be in my living room or kitchen, no privacy.
LF: Sounds terrific! I love to ask this question of my guests, I guess it’s so when I finally meet them I can prepare their favourite. When you’re reaching for something to quench your thirst, is it doffee or tea?
LS: Oh, coffee for sure…double double…until the kids put a guilt trip on me about all that sugar then I’ll have a tea…double double. LOL!
LF: Good to know, seeing as I’m also privy to one of your favourite desserts—cheesecake—I’ll know what to order when we meet…for coffee!
Lea, along with everything else you do, you also run an e-zine, can you tell us a little about it?
LS: Apollo’s Lyre was launched in 2003, has been a top 101 writing site in Writer’s Digest several years, won several Preditors and Editors awards since then and each year. It was founded by Bret Wright, Dr. Patricia Ferguson who has since passed on, and ‘moi’. When Bret had to take a leave of absence I just couldn’t let the ezine fall to the wayside so along with several excellent editors, Apollo’s Lyre is still around and going strong.
LF: Congratulations! I’m wondering, with all media offered today—from the internet to television and everything in between—do you think North Americans are reading less than they have before?
LS: I don’t believe so. Reading takes on various elements, from novels, short stories, comic books, magazines, etc. Each entity has their dedicated reader who continues to support the writers penning these formats. And since the Potter series, I believe many of our middle grade children were introduced once again to the love of reading. Writers just need to pen stories that will hook readers, and not rehash the same ol’ storyline hundreds of books already host.
LF: Very good point. There’s competition for the attention of readers of all ages out there, but with great ideas, hard work and learning to execute their stories, with someone like you guiding the way, I think writers can meet that challenge.
What advice do you have for someone who would like to become a published writer?
LS: Research your intended house. Contact several of their authors who have emails posted in their author pages and ask them questions about the publishing house, their satisfaction, and anything else before they contact the publisher.
LF: I found MUI listed on Duotrope and once I researched you, I knew I wanted to be part of Muse. Especially, since you’re Canadian. The possibility of being published by a house based in my own province made me immediately submitted a piece to you. So, I definitely agree with this point.
LS: Well, another important bit of advice would be to never get discouraged by rejections. Use the rejections as a motivating board to push off from and show everyone you can do it. With each rejection MIU sends out we make sure to offer the writers our reasons for passing on the manuscript in order to help them see areas that may need further exploring and reworking.
LF: LOL! I know first-hand of that being true. At first Deathly Quiet was not accepted. You and two other editors gave me feed-back and encouraged me to resubmit – which I did. The second time around you accepted it with heart-felt praise. It was like I knew you yet I hadn’t even met you! As I said, you’ve a nurturing spirit. Anything else that can help?
LS: Definitely…it’s last, but not least; don’t allow naysayers to put you down. Always keep the passion you feel while writing close by. A non-writer does not understand the long and tedious hours we put in, they don’t understand that it’s not always about the money but the love to entertain readers that pushes us forward, to know that our words have touched a few.
LF: Well said. Thank you, Lea.
Are there any exciting MIU projects that you would like to share with us?
LS: Well, come the fall MIU will be introducing our Bundle Series, and Bundle Genres, meaning several books will be bundled together where the reader will save 15% if bought separately. We’ll be hosting several treasure hunts, blog themes with door prizes, a one day One Year Anniversary Special, Christmas Online Party with a special prize for one lucky reader, and more.
LF: That’s great! Sounds like lots of fun and savings ahead!
As I mentioned in the intro, you’re also a published author. What inspired you to write your first book?
LS: I always had a love for reading and writing. I joke that I began writing from my mom’s womb when I mistook the umbilical cord for a neat writing implement. But it was comic books that motivated me to write. I loved the hook about having cliff hangers, pushing me to go back and find the second in the new series and continue the saga. And I’ve used that method in all of my chapter endings to make sure a reader is glued to their seat and my book.
LF: What genre are you most comfortable writing?
LS: I love writing for the middle grade and young adult audience because this age is so unpredictable. My characters always surprise even me as to which direction they move a story. There’s always a slight hint of the paranormal/mystery in the books.
LF: What books have influenced your life most?
LS: Please don’t laugh but it’s been comic books:
Archie, Superman, Batman, The Fantastic Four, Spiderman
These books influenced my writing life mostly, not my ‘life’ but without these comics I don’t think my ‘life’ would be as fulfilled as it is now.
LF: I think it’s something to celebrate. Comic books show up on many successful authors’ lists of inspirations and have influenced the entertainment industry in general.
So, what are you reading right now?
LS: I used to read Ludlum, King, Roberts, Le Carre, Steele, Winspeare, but now there’s no time to read because I have Muse best sellers (they aren’t there yet but their writing is pure best sellers if you ask me.) My time is divided now reading new submissions and our released books.
LF: With 180 authors on your roster and many submissions coming in daily, it makes for quite a bit of reading! I can understand putting the others aside for the time being.
I’m curious, as a writer, are you an outliner or a pantster?
LS: Oh, Pantser, all the way. Characters pull my hair, grab my writing arm, and direct me where they want to go. They invade my dreams forcing me to see them typing away a new storyline that I must pen the next day or immediately lest I forget and then the characters will have my hide.
LF: Led by the seat of your pants, even when you’re sleeping!
LS: LOL! Well, I tried to outline a story once and let’s just say that story never made it past The Beginning.
LF: So how do you start?
LS: The most important thing for me, strange as it may sound, is the title. I must have a title for my book before even one word is penned. Once the title is born, then the whole storyline is there before me and I know exactly where I need to go, who my main character will be, and the race is on.
LF: Sounds like an interesting way to work. One might call even call it a writing quirk.
LS: Oh yes! Without a title I just can’t begin writing. Or if you think the mugs and ashtray crowding my desk is a quirk, well, okay, I confess, I smoke and drink coffee.
LF: Hmmm…while I’m forcing confessions from you (lol) I may as well ask - what was one of the most surprising things you learned about yourself in writing your books?
LS: That I AM a writer. When we all begin writing we question that ability because we are surrounded by family and friends who have no understanding what passion, dedication, and perseverance is involved to finalize a writing project. So when we do finish a project and gleefully announce it to them, they turn around and say, “Wow, that’s great…so, do you wanna go for coffee? Are we still meeting up later on? Are you still going to lock yourself up and write some more?” In some way, I owe a ton of gratitude to these negative forces in my life who have helped me open my eyes and see and state openly with pride: I AM A WRITER.
LF: It’s a form of artistic expression to be proud of! Have any dreams been realized as a result of your writing?
LS: Besides the publishing house…having helped hundreds of writers, offering them any know-how I had in my head, any doors opened to me…there is nothing better besides the birth of my children, that comes close to knowing I have somehow been there for a writer and helped in some small way to make his or her dream come true. That is truly a most gratifying feeling.
Now Lea, I’ve come to the part of the interview that I find to be an interesting exercise. In a way, I’m turning the tables on you here.
If you were the subject of a book, what would the 20-word tagline of your story be?
LS: Haha! “Mother of five fits through slim window bars in order to escape the entity known as NEGATIVITY…but they’re watching her.”
LS: Ooh…I love it! A best-seller!!!
Thank you so much Lea for sharing all these wonderful memories, thoughts, advice and chuckles. You’re a dynamic person and I’m thrilled that our writing paths have crossed.
Everyone, please drop by and peruse the MuseItUp Bookstore and encourage the authors you’ll find there. Check back often as there are always new releases and weekly specials.
I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all the blog-hoppers around the world who have joined me this month to meet my wonderful guests, Maryse Dupuy, Emily Murphy, Alison Armstrong, Frayne McCarthy and Lea Schizas who so generously participated in my summer blog series “I’ve Got Company!”
I had a blast, I hope you enjoyed dropping by.
Don't forget to leave a comment after this interview for a chance to win a MuseItUp Bookstore Gift Certificate. Winner announced here on Monday August 29th at 8 am Eastern.