Saturday, May 31, 2008

Interview with Margot Finke

Children's author Margot Finke writes midgrade adventure fiction and rhyming picture books. Her six series of rhyming picture books are fun and educational, and bring kids closer to the many animals in the US and Australia. "Musings," her monthly column for children's writers, can be read in The Purple Crayon and the SCBWI NewsWorthy magazine. She's also a freelance editor, offering a Critique Service to writers. A native of Australia, Finke now resides in Oregon.

Why don’t you begin by telling us a little about yourself?

I’m an Aussie who has lived in Oregon with my husband and family for many years. Three kids all grown and now doing well on their own.

When did you decide you wanted to become an author?

The idea grew on me. I have always scribbled. When we came to the US my kids were small, and I didn’t want them to forget their Down-under roots. Every night I told them a story, off the top of my head, about a different Aussie critter. I did the same at schools when I became a Teacher’s Aid. Some kids complained that didn’t always tell the same story the same way – little rascals had better memories than I. A teacher friend said, “For goodness sake write the stories down. Then you’ll remember the endings!” I did, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I bought a computer, joined a few wonderful online writing lists, and proceeded to learn the craft of writing for kids from the basement UP.

Do you have another job besides writing?

Not any more. Since my husband retired, I have the luxury of spending more time writing. He has taken over our huge garden and the cooking – does a terrific job of both, too. Unfortunately, he does not do windows, laundry or dusting. Guess you can’t have everything.

Were you an avid reader as a child? What type of books did you enjoy reading?

Oh yes. I read everything with print on it – including jam jar labels. I became so immersed in Tale of two Cities one Saturday afternoon, on the train home, that I went three stops past my own. I had to walk five miles home in over 100-degree heat. WHEW!
I would read in bed under the covers, with the help of a flashlight. I was always is trouble for sneaking off to read up in the huge mango tree in our back yard, chores completely forgotten.

Tell us a bit about your latest book, and what inspired you to write such a story.

Rattlesnake Jam is just published. The idea popped into my head late one night, as I tossed sleepless in bed. The longer I thought about the fun combo of Gran, Pa and rattlers, the more verses I wrote in my head. It is a romp of a rhyming picture book, featuring crazy old Gran and Pa, rattlesnakes, and how to cook them. Gran is determined to have them made into her cure every ailment known to man jam, while Pa yearns for rattlesnake pie or fritters – just once.

How did you come up with the wacky idea of snake jam?

The name, “Rattlesnake Jam,” seemed perfect. For me, it holds all the unlikely, wild and wooly elements that make up Gran, Pa, and their love of rattlers.

The illustrations are grossly funny. Who came up with the physical traits for Gran? You or your illustrator?

Kevin Scott Collier came up with all their grossly funny charms, plus the wonderful rattlesnakes. I think my characters, plus the rhyming verses that bring them to life, appealed to the hidden kid in Kevin. Originally, Kevin sent me a sample drawing of Gran and Pa, and I knew we were on the same crazy wavelength. He has imagination, energy, and talent by the cartload. His “Rattlesnake Jam” illustrations are brilliant.

How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline?

As often happens to me with rhyming stories, the plot, rhyme and meter, simply flowed out of me. Then I put it aside for a week or two. After that, it was a process of tweaking here and there, to make sure the meter was smooth, the rhyme integrated with the wild and wacky doings of Gran and Pa, and everything worked to move the action along.

Did your book require a lot of research?

Not a lot - just enough to make sure that rattler details were accurate. Rattlesnake Jam is all wacky fun. However, my other picture books, a series of fun stories about animals from the US and Australia, was another matter. These were written in rhyme, yet they have educational content. My research for these 6 books was more in-depth.

What type of writer are you—the one who experiences before writing, like Hemingway, or the one who mostly daydreams and fantasizes?

Hmmm. . . I guess I’m the sort of writer who gets crazy ideas, and then weaves them into rhyming stories, or maybe non-rhyming stories. Several of my mid-grades are definitely in the wild side: A ghost mystery, with my Mother in the title role, and two Aussie outback adventures for boys, with lots of aboriginal Dreamtime doings.

Agatha Christie got her best ideas while eating green apples in the bathtub. Steven Spielberg says he gets his best ideas while driving on the highway. When do you get your best ideas and why do you think this is?

I have Down-under Syndrome. As soon as my head hits the pillow at night, my bran leaps into action. Rhymes, characters, and plots for books, beg me to go put them in a computer file, so they won’t become lost in my sleep cycle. Why this happens is an absolute mystery. Having spent half my live as an Aussie, at the bottom of the globe, maybe my brain still hasn’t adjusted to the time change? “Sleep Deprivation” is the name of my muse.

Do you get along with your muse? What do you do to placate her when she refuses to inspire you?

I must confess that my muse sticks around - a LOT. She loves to see me tiptoe downstairs to my computer at 2 AM, and pound out the words she generates in me. I really love the huge BUZZ a new rhyme or plot idea pumps through me: even in the early AM. However at 2 PM, when my eyelids droop known near my chin, I have a crazed urge to e-mail that #$% Muse, and give her a piece of my (yaw) mind.

From the moment you conceived the idea for the story, to the published book, how long did it take?

About six months.

Describe your working environment.

My writing den is our old family room: just off the kitchen. I started with a small table that had a much larger piece on marine plywood on top, so all my writing gear would fit on it. Later, dear husband put together a large U shaped desk, with cubbies, drawers, and lots of top shelves – pure heaven! Here, my computer reigns supreme. There’s a cozy wood fire, plus a comfortable sofa and chairs. Two windows onto the back gardens, and GroLux lights over wall shelves, for when I bring in tender plants to winter over.

Do you write non-stop until you have a first draft, or do you edit as you move along?

Tweak as I go along.

They say authors have immensely fragile egos… How would you handle negative criticism or a negative review?

I have had negative critiques that gave me a queasy stomach, plus a yen to bop someone on the nose. Fortunately, I resisted this urge. On second thoughts, the offending critique often proved right. So far, reviews for all of my books have been good to terrific. I would HATE a bad review. If we had a basement, I would probably lock myself down there and sulk.

As a writer, what scares you the most?

Never getting another book published.

When writing, what themes do you feel passionate about?

The theme of whatever book I am writing at the moment.

When it comes to writing, are you an early bird, or a night owl?

Night Owl.

Do you have an agent? How was your experience in searching for one?

No agent yet. So far, my agent search is a bust. It’s a toss up what’s the hardest – finding the right publisher, or finding the right agent. At the moment, I am going it alone.

Do you have any unusual writing quirks?

Only the fact that I write for a living – LIVING? ?? This is a living? Thank God for my supportive husband, and my many wonderful clients needing professional critiques.

Technically speaking, what do you have to struggle the most when writing? How do you tackle it?

My first page is always the hardest. I rework and rewrite that sucker umpteen times.

How was your experience in looking for a publisher? What words of advice would you offer those novice authors who are in search of one?

Research to find a publisher. Visit their website and check out their current book list – does your book fit their list? Check their submission guidelines with care. Gather publishing information and editor news from sources like The Purple Crayon, The yearly
CWIM (Children’s Writers and Illustrator’s Market), and news that flows through the online lists you are on.

What type of book promotion seems to work the best for you?

I am still learning the promotional ropes. Press Releases. My Blog, friend’s Blogs, interviews, and newspaper, TV, and radio interviews. School visits have proved a great income source, even when book sales are poor. I contact those whose business or themes fit with my book, and ask for reciprocal links, or even a book sales slot on their website, blog or store. Local stores. I am considering a Blog Tour. I look for new ways to promote my books every day.

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

Learn the craft of writing and stick with it.

Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?

Yes, I do: Margot Finke’s World of Writing for Children; “Rattlesnake Jam”; “Gran’s Kitchen – Rattlesnake Recipes to make Mom faint; Rattlesnake POLL – have you eaten rattlesnake? When, where, and why?

Do you have another book on the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects?

All are mid grades almost ready to go out and earn their keep:

Survival by Walkabout – 2 boy’s have adventures in the Aussie outback. The aboriginal Dreamtime plays a big part in this.

Taconi and Claude – Double Trouble – Aboriginal boy and his cockatoo have fun and dangerous times on an outback cattle station. The Dreamtime looms.

The Revenge of Thelma Hill – ghost mystery. A skeleton in the basement, and a ghost who wants someone to PAY!

Down-under Calling – a reluctant grandson is hooked by his grandmother’s letters from Australia. A mix of both their daily lives, plus letters back and forth between a grandmother and a grandson.

Anything else you’d like to say about yourself or your work?

A huge “thank you” to Mayra Calvani, for thinking up these awesome questions. She really made me stop and think.

Thanks, Margot! It was a pleasure to have you here!

Friday, May 30, 2008

Review of Curse of the Bayou, by Mary Cunningham

Curse of the Bayou (3rd book in the Cynthia’s Attic series)
by Mary Cunningham
Echelon Press
ISBN: 1-59080-575-5
Copyright 2008
Paperback, 160 pages, $9.99
Middle-grade, Fantasy/Mystery

Reviewed by Mayra Calvani

More time travel, magic, and adventure await young readers in this the 3rd book of Cunningham’s Cynthia’s Attic series: Curse of the Bayou. This time our tween travelers, Gus and Cynthia, go back in time as far back as 1844 to the Louisiana bayou in order to solve the mystery of Cynthia’s great-grandfather Beau Connor’s disappearance.

Twelve-year old Gus and Cynthia are nothing short of ordinary. For one thing, they are able to travel back and forth in time by way of Cynthia’s old trunk, situated in the cobweb-filled attic of an old mansion. Despite the fact that they’re so different, they’re also super best friends. In this installment, the girls must go back in time to find out what really happened to Beau Connor and the reason why he vanished while on a business trip. If you think the intrepid duo has been in danger before, hold your breath for Curse of the Bayou: treacherous Louisiana swamps, man-eating alligators, shape-shifting pumas, and evil pirates are some of the delicious surprises the reader will encounter.

I have read all of Cunningham’s books so far and I have to say this is the best. I especially loved the ‘Southern’ atmosphere in this book, the threatening setting of the swamps and humid Louisiana climate. Each chapter is filled with mystery and adventure and ends with an exciting cliffhanger. The pace is quick and the chapters short, adding to the suspense. I also found the dialogue between Gus and Cynthia a lot funnier and wittier in this book. Some of their wisecracks are really clever. Cunningham keeps the reader guessing by switching back and forth in time. For this reason I would say that although this is a middle-grade book, it could be confusing if not read with full attention. This is a book that will appeal to most young girls, especially to those who love stories about best friends and adventure/mystery with a dash of fantasy.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Interview with Donna McDine

Donna McDine is a freelance children's fiction writer with a first book on the works. Balancing her family life, day job, and writing career isn't easy, but as she herself stresses, setting boundaries and having a private writing space helps. In this interview, she talks about her writing environment, habits, and she offers aspiring writers some useful advice.

Why don’t you begin by telling us a little about yourself?

I'm a native of Rockland County, New York and live with my husband and two daughters. I write, moms, and I’m a personal assistant from my home in Tappan. I’m a 2007 graduate of the Institute of Children’s Literature, Writing for Children and Teenagers program. I’m also a member of the SCBWI, The Children’s Writers Coaching Club at The National Writing for Children Center, and Musing Our Children Group. I have been published in Stories for Children Magazine, Kid Magazine Writers, Long Story Short, Institute of Children’s Literature Rx for Writers, SCBWI Metro NY Newsletter, and Once Upon A Time. And a forthcoming non-fiction article with Boys’ Quest to be published in December 2012. I’m also a children’s book reviewer for Musing Our Children Group, The National Writing for Children Center, and Stories for Children Newsletter.

When did you decide you wanted to become an author? Do you have another job besides writing?

I married 18 years ago and with the strong desire to be home (after contending with the rat race of sending Nicole to daycare and running off to my corporate job) I found myself pregnant with Hayley 10 years ago and armed with a Bachelor’s Degree in Office Management and 11 years as an Administrative Assistant in the corporate world I successfully landed a job working for a Fundraising Consultant working primarily from my home. This position has been a Godsend, since worrying about the endless responsibilities of what to do with the children at the end of the school day, illnesses, etc. I was now home to deal with them. And the gentleman I work for is a doll…he respects the fact that family comes first. However, over the years I have yearned for something more challenging and rewarding. Then suddenly one day in the mail, info on the Institute of Children’s Literature found its way to me. I haven’t looked back since…even though I still hold my “day job” (it helps pays the bills)…I continue to make progress in achieving my writing goals (even if they are baby steps).

Were you an avid reader as a child? What type of books did you enjoy reading?

I always enjoyed reading from a young age and you could always find me immersed in a Nancy Drew mystery. I still have my collection (that my mom saved, in hopes of passing them down to her future granddaughters) that my daughters have been enjoying. To this day I still love a great mystery. In the past year I have read The Garden of Eve by K.L. Going, The Haunting of Frances Rain by Margaret Buffie, and Victory by Susan Cooper, plus many others.

Describe your working environment.

It has finally been confirmed that I’m a writer! The room that I had my computer in for years did not have a fourth wall…not until the day my husband surprised me that he had contracted a friend to put in a wall with a pocket door as a Christmas present to me. Having him acknowledge the fact that it is very important for me to be able to shut out the world when need be when I’m writing is a tremendous support. When the door is shut it tells my husband and daughters that a creative writing session is in progress and I shouldn’t be interrupted at this time. I feel validated!

My computer desk is adorned with a picture of my daughters in a Precious Moments frame that reads “There’s Always a Place in My Heart for You!” This helps me stay focused on the greater picture of life and family. I have writing and spiritual affirmations posted around my computer screen to help me to stay on track in my writing career. Morning is definitely my best creative time. I face a paneled wall and above that there are three 10”x10” quilts framed in oak frames (from Amish Country, PA) with a metal cut out sign that reads: Write (picked that up at an antique shop in Hunter Mountain, NY). I feel that it is very important that you designate some area in your home that is your space alone where you can let the creative juice flow. Go ahead…create your own oasis!

As a writer, what scares you the most?

Everyone says rejection, but I’d have to say acceptance of my manuscript and then having to come up with another idea for another manuscript. I’ve spent so much time with my current characters it probably would be odd not to have them rambling around my head anymore. It’s scary for me at times to have my words out there for all to judge, but I know publication and acceptance is the golden reward for our fruits of labor.

When it comes to writing, are you an early bird, or a night owl?

I rise about 5:30 am, read through my spiritual affirmations, check email and get a Pilates session in before the girls and hubby rise. Once the girls are off to school I make sure that I’m organized for my “day job” and then hit the ground running with my writing. This way when my boss calls late morning/early afternoon it’s not difficult to switch gears. Morning is definitely my best creative time.

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

So many people that I’ve met over the last two years have given me very sound advice. The one that stands out from early on is from Gayle Jacobson-Huset, Assistant Editor, Stories for Children Magazine: “Don't worry about your writing so much....your girls are young yet and need you...your time for writing more and more will come sooner than you think...just try to write something - even if it's an email or a letter to somebody, or even a journal entry - every day to keep your skills up, and also read, read, read children's books in the genre you hope to specialize in....the rest will come in due time. I think you're doing great!”

Do you have another book on the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects?

I am working on my first book through the Institute of Children’s Literature Advanced Book Course. Tentatively entitled, “Images of the Past,” includes historical events of General George Washington and Major John Andre. However, the long ago occupants, Nicole, and company are purely fictional.

The town I live in Tappan, NY is listed on the New York State Historical roster and I live down the street from the DeWint House, which was once occupied by General George Washington. Major John Andre attempted to deliver the secrets of West Point to the British, but was later tried, convicted and hung as a traitor.

SYNOPSIS: Nicole Sloan has moved to the east coast of the United States with her mother and sister and finds herself immersed in discovering the identity of the long ago occupants of their new home and proving their innocence of treason. While the move is difficult for Nicole, especially since her parents recently divorced (because of wife abuse), she is intrigued to solve the mystery from over 200 years ago. With the help of her sister, Hayley, and her two new friends, they are working against forces beyond their control. Yet their determination leads them down a road they never thought possible.

Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?

I have developed a blog and a website in conjunction with my writing and use them as a tool to provide information and maintain relationships with fellow writers. I blog at least 2-3 times per week and update my website on a monthly basis, or sooner if necessary.

Thanks for being my guest, Donna! Good luck with your writing career.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Interview with Kim McDougall, author of Rainbow Sheep

A native of Montreal, Quebec, Kim McDougall is a multi-genre author, photographer and fiber artist. Under her married name, Kim Chatel, she writes children's books. Her titles include the young adult novella, The Stone Beach, and the newly released picture book, Rainbow Sheep. I'm excited to have Kim here today to talk about her writing and specifically about Rainbow Sheep, a one-of-a-kind picture book where the pictures are from settings and characters created from sculpted wool.

When did you decide you wanted to become an author?

I have always written. I have a book of poems that I wrote when I was 8 or 9 (Cats have fur. They often purr…) In high school, I won an award for a descriptive flash I wrote about someone drowning. Then in college, I was lucky enough to have several encouraging professors who inspired me to continue writing. After my daughter was born, writing slipped by the wayside, but when she started school, I decided it was now or never. I put aside all my other projects (photography and crafting) and became a full-time writer. It took 3 years, but I'm finally reaping the rewards, with several projects being published in the next few months.

Do you have another job besides writing?

You mean other than mom and housekeeper? Those keep me busy enough, but I also edit a newsletter for one of my publishers and I've recently started making DVD's of picture books. I still take pictures and I have a small portfolio on I have my own ezine, called Between the Cracks Digest too, but I've put that on hiatus for the summer to spend time with my family and promote Rainbow Sheep.

Were you an avid reader as a child? What type of books did you enjoy reading?

I read all the time as a child and teenager. I could spend hours by myself with a good book. As a young child, I loved the Bobsy Twins series. Later I fell in love with fantasy fiction when I read Madaleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. I remember how she explained time could be folded like a blanket to travel over its surface faster. It was a true WOW moment for me. I had never read anything like it. Then my brother gave me the Belgariad series from David Eddings and I was hooked on fantasy.

Tell us a bit about your latest book, and what inspired you to write such a story.

Well, one evening during a storm, my daughter couldn’t sleep. I started a game with her that would last for years. I gave her a dream. This funny story was something she could latch onto while she tried to sleep and I told her to finish it in her dreams. The first of these story-dreams was an early version of Rainbow Sheep. Of course, it wasn’t as simple as that. The plot and characters went through many revisions before it was ready to submit for publication, but the basic story is the same one I told on that rainy night so many years ago.

How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline?

I get so excited when I start a new project that I need to create an outline, because I worry all my great ideas will get lost if I don't put them on paper. Rainbow Sheep was different though because it evolved from an oral tale. It did require extensive revising. The original version was much too long for a picture book. I wrote it down in full, and then put it away for a few months. When I took it out again, the initial excitement was gone and I could look at it with a critical eye. I think, like many authors, I'm often enamored with my own words, when they first materialize. I need to distance myself a bit before I can revise. This is where critique groups come in, and I have been very fortunate to be a part of good writers groups, with wonderful, supportive friends who have helped me improve my writing over the years.

Did your book require a lot of research?

I always research. For The Stone Beach I interviewed two veterinarians to make Casey's illness as realistic as possible. For Rainbow Sheep I learned some interesting facts about sheep. There is also an article on needle felting at the back of this book, so I researched the origins of this craft. I've learned that research doesn't end with publication either. Finding unique ways to promote a book also requires research. I am currently looking into different venues, such as craft and specialty gift shops, to sell Rainbow Sheep.

How did you come up with the idea of using felting to create the pictures in the story?

I was always fascinated by picture books illustrated with alternate forms of art such as Eric Carle’s collages or Barbara Reid’s plasticene-relief illustrations from The New Baby Calf, (author Edith Newlin Chase). These books worked on my subconscious, inspiring me to merge my own art with my fiction.

Tell us a bit about this special technique?

Felting happens when wool is shrunk down. Rubbing wool with warm water and soap is called wet felting. Needle felting is the art of sculpting wool with a special needle. Wool roving (unspun wool) is poked repeatedly, until it compacts into a solid shape. The results are fun, whimsical and fuzzy.

I first discovered this craft in 2004, on the Carol Duval show on HGTV. At the time, I dabbled in all kinds of crafts, but the first time I picked up a felting needle and a hunk of wool roving, I was hooked. I knew I’d found my medium. I can’t draw or paint. I don’t like to sew or knit, but needle felting lets me express my imagination with ease. Needle felting is fast becoming a mainstream art. When I first started, I could find only two books on the subject. Now there are dozens of books and chat groups for needle-felters.
Is this something young children could do at school? Where may parents and teachers find more information about this craft?

I suggest needle felting is suitable for children 8 years and older with adult supervision because the needle is quite sharp. My daughter has been felting since she was 6 years old though. Kids love it, even boys. There are many wet felting projects that don't require a needle and these would be great for school projects with children as young as 4 or 5.

While needle felting hasn't quite reached the big box craft stores yet, there are many good online stores for felting supplies and books. I have a list of them on my website. The DVD version of Rainbow Sheep will also include a short home movie of me making a little felted sheep, as per the instructions in the book.

What type of writer are you—the one who experiences before writing, like Hemingway, or the one who mostly daydreams and fantasizes?

A bit of both. I find scenes from my life appear in my stories, Montreal, Nice, France (I went to college there). For the rest, I'm a story collector. I listen and read, watch the news and find stories everywhere. Often two or three stories will combine to make one plot. I keep a file of "Story Sparks." This could be anything from a name of a character or a conversation, to a video of a news story.

Agatha Christie got her best ideas while eating green apples in the bathtub. Steven Spielberg says he gets his best ideas while driving on the highway. When do you get your best ideas and why do you think this is?

A jar of green olives and a glass of wine (I know a horrible combo!) usually does the trick for me. But if I relied on that method, I'd weigh too much to get out of my chair! I often get ideas in the middle of the night too. If I can't sleep, it's because an idea has a hold of me and won't let go. If I want any peace, I'll get up an write it down. I think ideas strike me at night because my brain has time to mull over the masses of media that I see every day. We live in an information crazy society. Sometimes it's hard to pick one voice out of the noise.

Do you get along with your muse? What do you do to placate her when she refuses to inspire you?

My muse used to frighten me. I let her rule my work schedule. If she didn't feel like writing, I wouldn't write. Since I started writing full-time, I've learned that it's a job, like any other. Sometimes it's easy, sometimes not. To break my muse's hold on me, I created my "9am Disciplinary Hour." I put a bunch of writing prompts in a jar. They were anything from plot ideas, to character descriptions to dialogue prompts. As soon as my daughter was off to school, while I was still fresh, I wrote 500 words on a topic that I pulled out of the jar. Not only did I end up with quite a portfolio of rough stories, but I learned to rule my muse.

Now I write on my time. It helps to have several projects on the go. That way, if one is not happening, I can move on to another. Also, the business end of writing takes up a lot of time. Some days, I'm just too exhausted or uninspired to write, but I still work at one of the dozens of other aspects of my job like, newsletters, websites, critiquing etc.

From the moment you conceived the idea for the story, to the published book, how long did it take?

Rainbow Sheep took about two and a half years from that first rainy night when I lulled my daughter to sleep with the story of a sad rainbow, to holding my first copy in my hands. As I mentioned, I put it away for several months before revising it. About the same time, I made my first needle-felted pictures. I had no idea if any publisher would be interested in such a thing. And because each frame took about 8 hours to complete, I made only three to begin with. Then I started the long process of trying to find a publisher. Luckily, I met Lynda Burch, from Guardian Angel publishing at the Muse online conference in October of 2007. She was interested in not only in the story, but in the art as well, I quickly got busy making another seven frames! By the end of November, I had completed the artwork. Then I suggested to Lynda that we include the Fiber Art activities. So, my job wasn't really done until January. The book was released in May 2008.

Describe your working environment.

I am lucky enough to have my own office at home. I usually have a cat draped across my lap as I type and a dog snoring loudly on the floor at my feet. I recently bought a laptop so I can work anywhere, but I prefer my office. I keep it quite cold in there, to stay awake through my sleepy time (2 to 4pm). I also have all my reference books handy.

Do you write non-stop until you have a first draft, or do you edit as you move along?

I try to write to the end before revising. My first novel, Caul, Shroud and Veil took me 12 years to write! Partly because I went for months (or years) at a time without working on it. But I also wrote and rewrote seven drafts before actually completing one. It was a learning experience. Now I know the value of a good outline. I make copious notes for revisions, but try to forge ahead and complete one draft before going back.

They say authors have immensely fragile egos… How would you handle negative criticism or a negative review?

I have enough rejection letters to paper my office. And I think that's how it should be. Taking creative writing in college really helped to thicken my skin. While I had some supportive professors, others were only interested in finding the next Alice Munroe; they weren't impressed by my brand of literary fantasy. In my classes, students critiqued other students' work. This was my first exposure to peer review. It was baptism by fire. There is no harsher critic than a fellow student. It was good experience for me. When it came time to send my stories to editors, I was ready to hear no. I realize that my writing style is not accessible to everyone, but I write what I like to read, and hope there is an audience.

As a writer, what scares you the most?

I worry that I will lose myself in my writing at the expense of my family. My computer has become an extension of me and sometimes I need to remind myself to step away. I've read about authors losing spouses to their writing addiction or alienating children. I don't want to be one of those. To combat this, I make sure that I volunteer and my daughter's school. I help with her softball team. During the summer, my family spends time camping and boating. All these things remind me that writing is only one important part of my life.

When writing, what themes do you feel passionate about?

In my adult fiction, I like dark, psychological fantasy. I explore the reasons why people make the big gestures in life, or why they make the wrong choices that drag them down. Mythology and fairy tales fascinates me. My children's fiction up until now has been all over the board. I write stories that I think children want to read or need to read, even if they might be emotionally draining to write.

Are you a disciplined writer?

I am very disciplined. I think any writer who is serious about this business needs discipline and talent in equal proportions.

How do you divide your time between taking care of a home and children, and writing? Do you plan your writing sessions in advance?

I write in the morning, as soon as my daughter is off to school. This is when I'm freshest. I work right until 4pm, when she gets off the bus. I stop to help her with homework, take care of the house, make dinner and do all million others things a mom needs to do. I try not to work on the weekends. That's family and house time.

When it comes to writing, are you an early bird, or a night owl?

I am definitely not a night owl. My creative juices shut off at 6pm. Though I enjoy needle felting in the evenings as a way to wind down. I often rise early, at 5 or 6 am, mostly because my cats are restless. Once I'm awake, I write for a couple of hours before everyone else gets up.

Do you have an agent? How was your experience in searching for one?

I did try to find an agent when my first novel, Caul, Shroud and Veil, was complete. I was offered contracts from two agents, but when I researched them further, I discovered they had very little experience. Though it was tempting to jump on the agent bandwagon anyway, I felt that having a bad agent would be worse than having no agent. I have not regretted that decision. Shortly afterwards, I was offered a contract from Double Dragon for not only the first book, but also the entire trilogy. Shortly after that, I won contracts from Eternal Press and Guardian Angel Publishing. I may one day pursue an agent again, but for now, I am happy with the state of my career.

Do you have any unusual writing quirks?

I have an addiction to the word 'that.' It is the bane of my existence. I am slowly learning to cut it from my stories.

What is your opinion about critique groups? What words of advice would you offer a novice writer who is joining one? Do you think the wrong critique group can ‘crush’ a fledgling writer?

I have been fortunate enough to belong to some amazing crit groups. I have also made the mistake of joining too many crit groups and not being able to keep up with the required reviews. I've learned to say no, and not join every group that pops up even when they sound intriguing. I have been overwhelmed by the generous support from the online writing community. Not just crit groups, but writers' chat groups and forums too. Between interview opportunities like this one and invitations to blog, I've been able to bring Rainbow Sheep to a wider audience than I could have alone. I have friends all over the world (whom I've never met face-to-face) offering to promote Rainbow Sheep to local stores, libraries and schools. I feel so privileged to be part of this community.

As for new writers, I think the benefits of crit groups far outweigh the chance of a bruised ego. In my experience, most critiquers are caring and honest. And the few that aren't…well that's part of the business, and any writer who wants to be successful had better learn to take what the critics dish out.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? What seems to work for unleashing your creativity?

The only time I suffered from writer's block was in college when I took a Writing for Children course. I had no experience with kids at the time. The were an alien species to me and I couldn't think of one story to write.

Now writer's block seems like a myth to me. I have so many ideas I want to get on paper. I know I will never have time to write them all down.

Technically speaking, what do you struggle the most with when writing? How do you tackle it?

For my children's fiction, I struggle with keeping my stories contemporary. I love all things old-fashioned and these tend to creep into my stories. I want to bring the joy of reading to kids, but I know the first step is to hook them with an idea that is relevant to their time and place. If I could, I would write like Anne of Green Gables or the original Winnie the Pooh, but I suspect that brand of narrative prose wouldn't fly with many of today's kids.

For my adult fiction, I find writing romance the most difficult. Love is the greatest theme of all, and the most overdone theme too. I want to bring some heat into fantasy fiction, which is traditionally very chaste. But I struggle with writing love scenes that are not cliché. Critique groups are very helpful in this area. I've also attended workshops on various world-building techniques.

How was your experience in looking for a publisher? What words of advice would you offer those novice authors who are in search of one?

When I first started writing, I read that to be published you need to make contacts. Being a bit of a recluse, I didn't believe it and I started blitzing editors with little success. Then I joined several chat groups and crit groups. I started my own ezine and helped to promote other authors. What goes around comes around. Soon I had friends recommending me to their publishers. Of my three current publishers, two of my contracts came about from contacts made in writers' groups. So that's my advice. Get out there. Help your fellow writers. Critique other stories. Go to conventions and conferences. Make a name for yourself.

What type of book promotion seems to work the best for you?

I'm new to the promotion side of publishing, so I can't really say what works best. I can tell you what I have planned for Rainbow Sheep: Books signings, school and library visits, craft fair appearances, direct mailing to fiber stores. I have sent out multiple review copies and I take advantage of the world of blogs. I enjoy making trailers for all my books and they appear on YouTube and other venues. Today I did errands and dropped off postcards printed with the Rainbow Sheep cover and blurb at the bank and the post office. I sold 7 books!

What is(are) your favorite book/author(s)? Why?

Adult fiction: Timothy Findley, Ursula LeGuin, Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett. These authors all write that kind of between the cracks fiction--somewhere between fantasy and literary fiction--that I aspire too. They each had a huge impact on my writing.

Children's fiction: Kate diCamillo, Madaleine L'Engle, Ursula LeGuin. These are storytellers in the true sense. They don't try to be didactic or cash in on modern shock value. They write beautiful, simple stories that will be as relevant in 100 years as they are today.

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

It only takes one editor to say 'yes.'

Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?

Between the Cracks fiction at
Children's fiction at

Do you have another book on the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects?

I am currently working on another picture book for Guardian Angel Publishing entitled A Talent for Quiet. This is the story of a shy little girl who bonds with her new step-dad while they photograph critters in the creek. It will be illustrated with my photographs, and include a short nonfiction section with photography tips for kids.

I am also working on the sequel to my fantasy novel Caul, Shroud and Veil coming soon from Double Dragon Publishing. So far, it's untitled. Double Dragon will also be releasing my novella, Angel Venom, this summer and I have two stories in their recently released Twisted Tails III Anthology, Pure Fear.

I also enjoy writing short stories and flash fiction. In the next few months, I have stories appearing in Albedo One Magazine, Hobart, Everyday Fiction, Flashshot, Necrotic Tissue, and a Coffee Break Short from Eternal Press.

I have several works in progress, but I intend to dedicate my summer to promoting Rainbow Sheep.

Anything else you’d like to say about yourself or your work?

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my world with your readers!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

On the Spotlight: Beverly Stowe McClure

In Beverly's own words...

"When I was in eighth grade, my teacher sent my poem “Stars” to the National High School Poetry Association, and I was soon a published author inYoung America Sings, an anthology of Texas high school poetry. Forty years later, I sent an article on fire safety to Happiness magazine, and it was published. In between, I went to high school, played clarinet in the band, was a majorette, and graduated. Then I got married to Jack and had three sons, David (an angel in heaven), Rex, and Scott. I attended college, graduated with a teaching certificate, and had a fourth son, Kelly. I taught children in elementary school for twenty-two years. Writing was the farthest thing from my mind.

"Before I knew it, my sons were grown and married. Now I have five granddaughters (one also an angel in heaven), two grandsons, two great-grandsons, and a great-granddaughter. (I married very young.)

We live in the country. Our house cat, Sugar, lets us feed her and clean up after her. Sometimes deer come to our pond to drink, and an occasional raccoon family pays a visit. A roadrunner sometimes looks in our door.Blue jays, cardinals, house finches, sparrows, field larks, red-winged blackbirds, woodpeckers, and other birds enjoy dining on the seeds I put out. Country life is great. We’re both retired, Jack from firefighting, me from teaching. We like to travel. I co-teach a women's Sunday school class. To relax, I play the piano, try to make flowers grow under the hot Texas sun with little water, and have discovered many interesting ancestors in my genealogy research.
And I write most every day.
God bless."

Check out some of Beverly's books!

Rebel in Blue Jeans
What's a girl to do when her mother runs away with the drummer in a rock band? Click here for more.

Listen to the Ghost
Jade Dalton is on a quest to discover the truth not only about her ghost but about herself, as well. The story takes place in Charleston, SC, where, according to legend many old houses have a resident ghost. Click here to read a synopsis and excerpt.

Caves, Canons, and Crinolines
The year is 1863. Vicksburg, Mississippi is under siege. This is the story of one girl and her family's day-to-day struggle to survive a changing way of life during the War Between the States.

Visit Beverly's website to learn more about her and her young adult books!

Check out her interview at Teensreadtoo or listen to her audio interview at BlogTalkRadio.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

On the Spotlight: CE Bilingual Books

CE Bilingual Books is an independent publisher of Chinese-English bilingual books for children, featuring characters of both cultures and universal themes that are appealing to all kids.

One of their titles, THE FROG IN THE WELL, is about a little frog and how he views the world while teaching about China and its language. The story is based on an old Chinese fable and relates the tale of frog who lives in a deep well and a sea turtle living in a vast Eastern ocean. The frog lives happily in the well. He thinks the well is the world until a sea turtle tells him about the vast ocean.

Here's what reviewers are saying...

"Every parent loves a book that will entertain and teach their child. CE Bilingual Books has come up with a clever way to teach language and culture that is sure to please even the most discriminating young mind."

--Highly Recommended by Reviewer: Nancy Morris, Allbooks Reviews.

"The storyline is easily understood, age appropriate, well-written and will stimulate young minds to consider the status of both the frog in the well and the turtle in the vast ocean when considering their own lives and the opportunities they have before them. There is an ocean of knowledge to investigate that is outside the confines and happiness found in a well if one chooses to listen to others and broaden his or her cultural experiences. We can all be embarrassed by what we think we know—just ask the frog in the well."

--Bettie Corbin Tucker, IP Book Reviewers,

About the Author...

"Irene Tsai, Ph.D. was born in Taiwan and grew up in Queens, New York. She believes books can change lives. Indeed, books have motivated, challenged, and reassured her throughout her life and into her career as an engineer. Growing up in Flushing, New York, Irene spent many hours reading books in Chinese and English in the Flushing Public Library and Chinese Culture Center. She credits her ability to communicate in both Chinese and English to her mother, who loved reading Chinese literature and watching traditional Chinese movies. Irene has published articles in the World Book Encyclopedia as well as scientific journals. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators." (as stated in the book's press release).

CE Bilingual Books is currently looking for talented writers and illustrators. Read their guidelines for more information.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Book Review: It’s a Dog Life, but It’s Your Carpet, by Justine A. Lee, DVM

It’s a Dog Life, but It’s Your Carpet
By Justine A. Lee, DVM
Three River Press
ISBN: 978-0-307-38300-6
Copyright 2008

Author website.

This latest book by author and veterinarian Justine A. Lee is a must for dog owners and dog lovers alike. The book answers many fascinating questions seldom answered in regular dog books.

Have you ever wondered if a Chihuahua and a Great Dane can mate? Are dogs ever gay? What are the top ten dog toxins? Can you teach an old dog new tricks? Is table food really bad you’re your dog? Why does your dog lick his private parts? Why do dogs like to sniff butts? Is it okay to let your dog sleep on your bed? Why do dogs chase their tails? Do dogs dream? Why do dogs lift their legs when they pee? And many, many others.

The book is written in a highly informative, yet witty, humorous style. Some of the author’s remarks are downright hilarious, making this book a pleasure to read. You get the feeling that it’s your veterinarian best friend who’s offering you advice. This would make a great gift for any canine lover, or one you’ll definitely want to add to your shelf if you own a dog. For feline lovers, the author also has a similar book written specifically about cats.

*My review of this book first appeared on Armchair Interviews.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Interview with Mary Jean Kelso, Multi-genre Author

Mary Jean Kelso is a journalist and a multi-genre author of adult, young adult, and children's books. In this interview she talks about her latest picture books, illustrated by renowned Oregon artist K.C. Snider.

Thanks for joining us today, Mary Jean. Do you consider yourself to be a born writer?

Yes. From the time I was able to pick up a piece of paper and a pencil. I spent a lot of years not knowing that was the direction I was going so I trained as an administrative assistant and fortunately became a very fast typist!

Tell us about your recent release. What was your inspiration for it?

The Christmas Angel was a piece I made into "mini" books about 1 inch by 3 inches and totally "hand made." I did it because kids were wanting to buy books when I did a signing and the parents didn't want to spend $6.95 for a book. So, I sold "mini" books for $1 just so the kids could get them. Then I found, since it was Christmas time, adults were buying 24 at a time. They wanted to include them in their Christmas cards. So, I knew the story was a hit. Tell us about your children's books.

K.C. Snider illustrated the first, The Christmas Angel. She is also illustrating the sequel (One Family's Christmas) and the Andy and the Albino Horse series. We are both very excited about our work with Guardian Angel Publishing.

Have you ever suffered from writer's block? If yes, how did you "cure" it?

Yes! How I cured it was to stop listening to all the people that were telling me "how" to write. I was looking at hard and fast rules I was afraid to break and until I became honest and wrote what I wanted to the way I wanted to write it I wasted a lot of time worrying if I was doing it right.

Are you a disciplined writer? What is your working style? Do you like to outline and plot ahead, or are you more of a stream-of-consciousness writer?

I'm a steam-of-consciousness writer. I like the surprise when the story takes a turn. I like getting the excitement the first time like the reader does. I will go through the rough draft and list the chapters and put down a sentence that describes what it is basically about just to make sure I'm tracking properly. I tend to do a lot of rewrites and have fun with the things that "pop" up to add.

Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your works?

I have a website and an author's page at AuthorsDen.

What are you working on now?

I am a multi-genre writer. I write for a newspaper, write for adults and YA as well as for children. Right now I am working on my Homesteader series — #4. #3 is due out in May so the editing starts in a couple of months. I am working with K.C. Snider in the sense that we teleconference on the illustrations for the next several books for GAP and trying to keep up with the newspaper as well as doing signings as often as possible.

Where are your books available?

My books are available at Guardian Angel Publishing,, Whiskey Creek Press, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and a lot of gift shops.

What advice would you offer aspiring writers?

Listen to your own voice. Only you know how you want to write the book and what works for you.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Launch Party for The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing

Hi Everyone,

To promote the release of my first nonfiction book, The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing (co-authored with Anne K. Edwards), I'm launching a party at Blogcritics Magazine from June 1-30.
Learn all about the business of book reviewing and what’s in the mind of some of the most popular reviewers on the internet today. Some of our guests will include: Irene Watson from Reader Views, Andrea Sisco from Armchair Interviews, Hilary Williamson from Book Loons, Linda Baldwin from Road to Romance, Judy Clark from Mostly Fiction, Carolyn Howard-Johnson from The New Book Review, James Cox from Midwest Book Review, Lea Schizas from Muse Book Reviews, Magdalena Ball from The Compulsive Reader, Sharyn McGinty from In the Library Reviews, and many others!
Learn more about the book at The Slippery Book Review Blog.
The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing is officially available for pre-order now on Amazon and B&N. If you order now Amazon is offering a discount. The ebook galley is also for sale now from the publisher at Twilight Times Books. (If you buy the galley now, you will receive the finished version upon its release on June 15th).
I hope you'll stop by at Blogcritics to read some of the interviews and hopefully leave comments and/or questions.
I will send another announcement on June 1st.
Mayra Calvani

Reviews of CRASH!



"Children will love reading about Marcelo and his new puppy in "Crash!" by Mayra Calvani.

Marcelo's parents surprise him on his fifth birthday with a golden retriever puppy--the one thing he wanted more than anything in the world. Thrilled beyond all belief, Marcelo must now learn how to take care of his new puppy: feeding him, walking him, playing with him. But all that is easy compared to finding a name for him.

"Crash!" is a charming story about a boy and his dog and the special relationship that develops between a child and his pet. Author Mayra Calvani shows off her storytelling talents once again, as she did with "The Magic Violin".

Calvani has a way of getting right to the heart of children with her touching stories. Kudos go out to young illustrator, Anna Pylypchuk, whose beautifully drawn illustrations bring Calvani's story to life. My children each had their favorites drawings from the story. I can't wait to see what Mayra Calvani's next children's book is all about!

--Cheryl Malandrinos, The Book Connection


"Anyone who is a parent with a child that has begged, hollered, and begged some more for a pet will enjoy Crash and Marcelo, the little boy who gets his wish. The glee and joy in his cute little face is described vividly by author Mayra Calvani.

Reading “Crash”, a child and a parent discover the responsibilities that come with owning a pet. Marcelo also discovers that naming his new family member is not as easy as he thought. Many ideas come to his head, none really fitting in with the cute Golden Retriever.

The name he finally picks surprises his parents. But as you read, you realize this is the PERFECT name... This is a great book to buy for your child, you know, the one who is begging and hollering and begging some more for a pet. It will teach and prepare them for the responsibilities surely to come when a pet finally comes gift-wrapped."

--Lea Schizas, Muse Book Reviews


"Crash! has a very simple and straight-forward premise. A young boy named Marcelo wants nothing more than to have a puppy. So, on his fifth birthday, Marcelo’s wish is granted, and his parents surprise him with a Golden Retriever puppy. The only problem is, Marcelo doesn’t know what to name the puppy. Marcelo’s parents keep trying to offer up helpful suggestions for names, but he doesn’t think any of them fit his new best friend. It’s not until Marcelo is playing catch with his puppy that he finally decides on a name.

The story of Crash! is told from the third person point of view. The list of characters is also very straight forward. There is Marcelo, his mother and father, and of course the puppy. All the characters just seem to be very happy and loving. There are points in the story, like when Marcelo’s parents let him take the puppy out for short walks, where you can see that the family is loving and caring towards each other. The parents are mentioned as keeping a close eye on Marcelo as he walks his dog. Also, Marcelo cleans up after his puppy, just like his father has shown him. I think, though, that the true bond and relationship that is front and center is that of Marcelo and the puppy. The puppy is described as the best friend Marcelo has ever had. You truly get the feeling that Marcelo and the puppy have become almost inseparable. The puppy sleeps curled up against Marcelo. The puppy even follows Marcelo into the bathroom. You can truly see the pair as being best friends.

The illustrations in the book are colorful, bright, and sure to catch the attention of any young child. Drawn in a rather whimsical manner, the pictures absolutely bring the story to life. Instead of children just imagining Marcelo taking the puppy for a walk, it’s right there for the kids to enjoy. The colors are bright and bold, but still not overdone. The pictures also help lend to the fact that Marcelo and the puppy are such good friends. Through the pictures, you can see just how inseparable the pair really is."

Though I would not say this book has a strong message to speak of, I do think it is a nice tale of friendship. Sometimes that’s all you need out of a book, especially one for a younger audience. And, as I have pointed out, the friendship shows through loud and clear.

Overall, I would say that Crash! is a fun book for younger children. I think that children will enjoy the colorful pictures, and the cute story of friendship that develops between a boy and his puppy."

--Review by A. E. Jaskiewicz, Front Street Reviews


"Five-year-old Marcelo receives a puppy on his birthday. It was golden in color and had chocolate-brown eyes. A Golden Retriever! Marcelo wanted a puppy more than anything else in the world, so he was quite happy with his new puppy. It's a boy puppy, but Marcelo had to think up a special name for his special puppy.

Marcelo took good care of his puppy and kept him clean, well fed, and well exercised. Naming a puppy was a big undertaking, and Marcelo wanted to make sure he had the best name. Mom and Dad gave many names to Marcelo to consider, but he just wasn't happy with any of them.

You'll just have to read this adorable book to see what the puppy did and what the perfect name was that Marcelo gave to his puppy!

Author Mayra Calvani carefully chose every word in this book. It just flows perfect, and I really enjoyed the care Marcelo put into giving his puppy just the right name. I was astonished that the colorful, kid-friendly perfect illustrations by Anna Pylypchuk are the work of a sixteen-year-old girl! She is a native Ukrainian and I found her very detailed illustrations just as charming as Mayra's text. This is a fun read for your little ones, and the author will be donating 50% of her royalties from this book to ALMOST HEAVEN GOLDEN RETRIEVER RESCUE AND SANCTUARY, a non-profit organization."

--Gayle Jacobson-Huset, Assistant Editor, Stories for Children Magazine

"A golden retriever puppy chases his tennis ball right into a wall several times. It’s so typical of him (and his breed) that his actions actually win him his name.
The book “CRASH!” by Mayra Calvani is a children’s story about a boy named Marcelo who receives a puppy as a gift from his parents on his fifth birthday. Marcelo immediately begins the important process of choosing a name for his puppy. It can’t be just any name. He says the name has to fit his dog’s personality.

Marcelo bathes, brushes and feeds his puppy, so the story teaches children about dog-owning responsibilities. “CRASH!” is geared towards children between the ages of 2 and 6, a perfect age to begin learning about pet ownership. Marcelo walks his dog, even in the rain. He picks up after his dog like his parents taught him (good parents!) and begins to teach his dog commands like sit, stay and roll over. The puppy also chews on anything he can get his mouth on!

Since I own a Labrador retriever mix, I had to smile when the puppy chased his tennis ball straight into a wall, not just once but repeatedly (sounds like my mutt). Anyone who has owned a golden retriever, or even a lab will appreciate this book. I was interested in the story because I grew up with golden retrievers and figured I could not go wrong with any children’s story about a golden retriever.

The bright illustrations by Anna Pylypchuk tell the story on their own. Pylypchuk is a 16-year-old Ukraine native. Her pictures are enough to keep anyone interested, even a toddler. The story itself is short, about 22 pages, so it’s enough to hold the attention span of 2- to 6-year-old child (or an easily distracted 25-year-old). Children love stories about pets, and this one will teach them the value of owning a dog."
--Lindsay Stordahl,

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

On the Spotlight: Children's Author Bonnie Cuzzolino

About the Author...

Award winning author Bonnie Cuzzolino and her family live in New Jersey. Bonnie and her husband Ray are the parents to a beautiful daughter adopted from Hubei, China in November of 2001 at 12 months old. She and her husband are now waiting for a referral for their second daughter from China through Holt International Children's Services. Bonnie has had a lifelong passion to write children's books.

This book is her first and is dedicated to her daughter, Jillian Mei. "I believe that we are given the gift from God to love. For some people there are circumstances in their lives that interfere with this ability. Our daughter's birth mom chose to leave her in a place that she could be found quickly and cared for,in a bamboo basket, wrapped warmly in blankets with a note of her birthdate and a small amount of money. A decision that many of China's birth moms who relinquish their children make."

About the Book...

"Letter of Love From China is a children's story book that reflects part of my own daughter's story as to her finding place and knowledge of her actual birthdate. It is written to reflect one scenario of how a letter might read from a birth mom based on my belief that my daughter was loved and is still in her birth families hearts. The book is beautifully illustrated with vibrant colors. My book is for those families who also believe that their child's birth mom's acts showed that their child was loved. The story is based on a Chinese birth mom who writes her daughter a letter explaining her love for her, reasons for her relinguishment, describes the beauty of scenic China and the Holidays, prays for, meaning hoping for but not certain of, her daughter's adoption by a family from a foreign land and ends by using the moon as a mirror to envision each other's faces in times of thinking of one another," says the author.
Read my review of Bonnie's book.
Visit the author's website to learn more about the author and/or purchase the book:
Note: A portion of the proceeds will be donated to Holt International Children's Services, Foster Care Program, in Eugene, Oregon.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Interview with Children's Book Author Donna Shepherd

Children's book author Donna J. Shepherd talks about her two new picture books, Ouch! Sunburn! and No More Gunk! both under Guardian Angel Publishing's new Health and Hygiene imprint. Donna, who also writes devotionals, also talks about her working environment, book promotion, and her experience in looking for a publisher, among other things. She offers some sound, wise advice to aspiring authors.

Do you consider yourself a born writer?

I wouldn’t. I've never been one to journal, and besides a few things written for English class in high school, I didn't write. But once I started, I wrote every day!

Did you always want to be a writer?

I never really thought of writing for children until the summer of 2003 when I wrote a short poem. I submitted it to Guideposts for Kids. The editor replied favorably with a couple of suggestions. I thought I might be onto something, and wrote a couple more stanzas, and then a few more. The resulting manuscript became "Topsy Turvy Land," the first picture book published by Hidden Pictures Publishing.

And in the meantime, I continued to submit to magazines, and GP4K published one of my first poems, "My Tooth Is Missing."

Tell us about your recent release. What was your inspiration for it?

Ouch! Sunburn! is a 27 page, 94 word easy reader. My redheaded son, Aaron, to whom I dedicated the book, has always had a terrible time each summer preventing sunburn. We've learned a LOT about skin care! But the little boy in the book thinks he's smarter than mom. Sun Safety Tips in the back of the book reinforce the book’s theme.

Ouch! Sunburn! and a new book, No More Gunk!, will soon be released as a print book as part of Guardian Angel Publishing’s new Health and Hygiene line. No More Gunk! features the same little boy and tips for taking care of teeth in the back. It will be two books in one, or as Lynda calls it – “a double-doozie!” I’m sure kids will giggle at the fun illustrations Kevin came up with for Gunk!

Tell us about your other children's books.

Topsy Turvy Land was so much fun to write, and just as fun to promote. It’s a rhyming picture book with hearts hidden throughout, and a hidden picture puzzle on the back cover. I’m sure I’ll have the same delight in promoting the Ouch! Sunburn!/No More Gunk! book, too. I also have a follow-up book to Topsy Turvy Land coming soon called Dotty’s Topsy Tale. It features the polka-dotted hippo first seen in Kevin’s illustrations in Topsy Turvy Land. It deals with the delicate subject of discrimination.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? If yes, how did you ‘cure’ it?

Just about the time I think I’ve forgotten how to write and run out of inspiration, I’ll experience an ‘Aha! Moment.” It’s like I can’t get to the computer fast enough to start writing.

Some writers go on long walks, others keep a journal, write at a café, or listen to music. What do you do for inspiration and unleashing your creativity?

I like to think of God's pleasure as He created. Can you imagine Him smiling when he put that humongous beak on the toucan? And then, with a flourish, added all the beautiful colors?

As writers, we are blessed to be able to create. And as a children's writer, sometimes I'm really blessed, and the words I write are illustrated with pictures. It's so much fun to see my words come to life. I thank God every day for the joy of writing, and for allowing me the pleasure of seeing my words in print, and sometimes illustrated.

Describe your working environment.

For Valentine’s Day three years ago, my husband bought a notebook computer for me. I call it my writing machine. I write for grownups, too, and I’ve written hundreds of devotionals and articles in the last three years. So, I’m usually sitting in my family room with the television on – as I am now!

Are you a disciplined writer? What is your working style?

Oh, I’d love to say I am disciplined! I write ideas in a little notebook I keep in my handbag or even on the backs of napkins. I’ve been given several beautiful journals to write in, but I can’t bring myself to scribble in them. Eventually, all the scraps work their way into my writing.

Do you like to outline and plot ahead, or are you more of a stream-of-consciousness writer?

I start with a few lines, and have an idea of where I’m headed. It’s the middle that takes so long!

Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your works?

I’m what you’d call a blogaholic! I have several. They can all be accessed through my website:

I write for ‘grownups,’ too, and have lots of links and information about that on the website.

What are you working on now?

I have a publisher interested in my “Devotionals by Donna” and I’m very excited about getting to work compiling and editing my writing into a book. I’m also working on a couple more children’s books.

Where are your books available?

Topsy Turvy Land is available through any bookstore, and of course, on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The ebooks can be ordered through Guardian Angel Publishing, Fictionwise, and other sites specializing in ebooks. When they come out in print, they will have the same availability as Topsy Turvy Land in bookstores and online.

What was your experience in looking for a publisher?

I met the publisher of Topsy Turvy Land, Liz Ball, with Hidden Pictures Publishing, after looking for an SCBWI chapter. We met for a critique session without my knowing she also had her own publishing company, and had been considering publishing a picture book. I took my laptop to a meeting to show what Kevin and I were doing, and she loved it. Soon after, we met to talk about the release of the first picture book for her company. I was honored she chose mine!

Kevin introduced me to Lynda Burch with Guardian Angel Publishing. We’ve worked together on several books now. She’s a terrific promoter of her authors and great to work with.

What was your experience in working with an illustrator?

Kevin (Scott Collier) and I have worked together on several projects now. He has a wonderful sense of humor, and adds a lot of whimsy to my words through his vision. I never know what he’s going to come up with next. For “No More Gunk,” he practically turned the teeth into characters in the story.

What type of book promotion works for you? Any special strategies you’d like to share?

Networking is key. And give more than you get. I try to promote and encourage other authors, and I’m blessed when they reciprocate. I’ve set up blogs for all my books, and the Topsy Turvy Land blog has coloring pages by Kevin, Hidden Picture Puzzles by Liz, some poetry I’ve written, and a few other goodies. It gets a lot of traffic.

What advice would you offer aspiring writers?

Well, I still feel like an aspiring writer, but I can tell you what has worked for me. If you want to be a writer, write! Don’t just talk about it, or go to critique groups, or read about it – although that’s all part of learning. Take out a pen or fire up the computer and write. Then re-write. Great writing is re-writing!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Book Review: Letter of Love from China, by Bonnie Cuzzolino

What happens to those Chinese children whose families must give them away because of poverty and the chance of a better life? What happens when they're adopted by Westerners and taken away from their birth mothers? What happens to the birth mothers, for that matter?

Letter of Love from China is just that, a loving letter from a Chinese mother to her beloved child living in America with her new family; a child she loves more than anything in the world yet was compelled to relinquish as an act of deep and total love.

This book is one of those little gems one doesn't encounter often. It is a touching book that will bring tears to your eyes, sad yet beautiful and uplifting. The language is softly lyrical and the evoking illustrations a splash of magical color across the pages.

Letter of Love from China is the 2008 Mom's Choice Award Silver Recipient in the Family Life Children's Category, and Winner Of The 2007 Power Of The Pen Award For Best Children's Book.

To learn more about this book and purchase a copy, visit the author's website.