Between Tweens – Interview with Middle Grade Author Madeleine McLaughin

During the month of April four of us middle grade and tween authors are interviewing each other in a blog hop. Today Madeleine McLaughlin answers my questions, and my answers to her questions are on her blog at http://madworldca.blogspot.com.

Madeleine writes from Canada, and her first tween ebook Beggar Charlie and Hickory Dick is releasing this June with Muse It Young.

Sandy: Where do you like best to write, and is there special music you like to listen to as you write, or do you prefer silence?

Madeleine: I like to sit in my easy chair with my tiny computer on my lap. I often have the television on but don’t hear the program when I’m writing. It’s just to have chatter, although when I write early in the morning, I prefer silence.

Sandy: Great. Are any of your characters based on people you’ve really met?

Madeleine: A lot of them are based on aspects of myself. The children I write about are based on what I know of children and their psychology, not any specific child. I have a diploma in Child Psychology so I know something about how their minds work. At least I think I do.

Sandy: That’s a difficult thing to comprehend, indeed. So, as a writer, what are some things you do overcome writer’s block?

Madeleine: I never really get writer’s block but sometimes get stuck on a story plot line. In that case, I just leave the story alone for a while until I get an idea. I do all my heavy thinking in bed, right before I go to sleep. That’s where I got the idea for Beggar Charlie. I wrote the first paragraph using a tape-recorder. I think it turned out well.

Sandy: Me, too. Can you tell us about your revision process.

Madeleine: First, I write the first draft which is just typing out ideas, then I get critiqued by some interested readers. Then just keep re-writing until I’m happy with it. It can take over 60 revisions until I’m happy.

Sandy: Sixty revisions is a lot, but I’m sure it turns out the best it can be after all that. My final question is: What are you doing or planning to do to grow as an author?

Madeleine: I’m always reading non-fiction to learn new things. You’d be surprised how many ideas history can give you. Other than that, I’m just trying to expand my readership. Also, I’d like to try other genres. I’ve already done horror and I may go back to that, but I’d like to do other things, too.

Sandy: It sounds like you have varied writing talents, Madeleine. Thank you for joining us this week. Good luck in your sales and with future books.

The other two middle grade writers participating in this month’s blog hop with their own questions and answers are Heather Fraser Brainerd (drivingblindproductions.wordpress.com) and  Suzanne de Montigny (http://suzannesthoughtsfortheday.blogspot.ca/)

The Kind, the Funny, and the Peculiar Characters

This week I’ve realized my book characters are too bland and ordinary. Real life sure isn’t. It’s full of all sorts of interesting and dramatic characters.

* Five days ago I blogged about my encounter with kind and helpful strangers stopping to help me when my car broke. (See http://sandycarlson.com/2014/03/31/good-samaritan-recipient/ ) They stirred good feelings towards them with no way for me to pay them back. It was quite humbling.
* A second incident happened today as I walked through the parking lot to a grocery store. As I passed a car, a little dog inside started barking at me. Ever notice that the smaller the dog is, the quicker and higher pitched the yip, accompanied with lots of bouncing and jumping? (“See how tall I am? And how dare you approach my territory! Yap!”) Anyway, his yipping and jumping set off the car alarm.

I find it amusing how car alarms vary. Our own car alarm is rather wimpy. I set it off on purpose once. I had to get close to it to hear. It was a pitiful, “Oh, pooh. Oh, ow. Oh, and, yeah: help. But only if you wanna.” On the contrary, Mr. Yippy’s car alarm could be heard two blocks away. (“Yeah, you better keep walking, you human. Yip!”)

* And then there are the peculiar characters, like the Cedar Rapids, IA, dog owner whose loose dog bites neighborhood kids in their own yards and terrifies postal workers so there is no mail delivery in the neighborhood until the dog-owner-issue is resolved. There are many wonderful dog stories, but who really wants to read about irresponsible owners? Yuck.

* Another peculiar character involved my friend Freda.

The snow had finally melted after a long, long winter. Neighbor Qu, across the street from my friend Freda, was returning from a month in sunnier climes. Freda wanted her part of yard facing his driveway and around Qu’s mailbox (on her property) to be cleared of leaves and look welcoming. For two hours she used a pronged rake to scrape out the matted-to-the-ground leaves. She put them in a 12′ width line along border of Neighbor Yp’s wooden lot, but still on her property according to the boundary stakes still in the woods from after the May 2011 storm. She anticipated the leaves would compost quickly in the coming rain, and also deter the woods from their annual creep into her yard.

As she raked, Neighbor Yp walked past. She hadn’t seen him all winter except when he drove past. She said hi. He didn’t respond. Not unusual. For the past five years, he’s lived on the other side of the empty lot, which is covered with brush and chopped and downed trees. For in May of 2011, a fast-moving storm decimated Freda’s neighborhood. Besides taking lives and crushing houses, the storm uprooted about 90% of the trees in the forested lot, including four trees upon the root balls which Freda’s fence then sat.

That same afternoon of raking, Neighbor Qu returned, relaxed and tan. Freda walked over to welcome them home and return their house keys. When she turned to go home she noticed her raked leaves along the border were now scattered 10′ into her yard, assumedly from a leaf blower.

Yp!

Freda re-raked the leaves, moving them more into her property, and put a black garden cloth over them so the now dried leaves wouldn’t blow onto someone else’s property and so they’d easier decompose.  Around the stake in the woods, two feet away from Freda’s leaves, she tied an orange string. Two hours later, the leaves were gone and the garden cloth and marker tossed into Freda’s yard.

How long could this silly property line business go on? If he had a concern while she was raking, why hadn’t he talked to her when he walked by?

Seeing Yp in his garage, Freda decided to ask him what was going on. She never got the chance.  Yp, constantly pacing and never making eye-contact, yelled, swore, and waved a 1960′s property map at her, unrolling it and rolling it repeatedly. Freda backed away a few paces, uncertain of what he was saying or what he would do next. She’d been witness to many angry family outbursts from Yp.

Yp accused Freda of not only moving the boundary stakes, but of tossing cement over the fence and of building a fence on his property. He waved the map at her again. The fence had been there decades before Freda moved in. Y threatened to tear down the fence, along with more swearing.

Shaking from the encounter, and afraid to say anything which might set Y off any more than he already was, and I sure don’t blame her, Freda left. Yp was fuming over twelve inches of leaves on the other side of his empty lot when his whole lot was a mess.

Freda vowed she’d go near the borderland as little as possible.  She told me she had no problem with letting him have the twelve inches, the two feet, or even more if he wanted it. But more worrying was that she hadn’t moved any stakes, and she certainly didn’t toss any cement over the fence. Falsely accused!

The latter comment confused my friend.  Yp assured her three years ago that he would take care of his uprooteed trees so Freda could have her backyard back. Five months after the storm, Freda finally contacted a fencing repair company. So at first Freda thought perhaps YP meant that the fence-repair people dumped the cement into the 6′ hole caused by an uprooted tree. They’d replaced about 10′ of fence, straightened the rest, and replaced a corner post. But, and I agreed with her, 1) if the fence people tossed the cement into the empty lot, a post would have to be attached to the cement, and 2) they were a reputable company and would never do such a thing.

Then Freda recalled seeing huge concrete chunks in the lot after the storm took down the trees. She took me to her backyard, keeping an eye out for Yp. The concrete lay about ten feet over the fenceline. I estimated that they weigh about 200-300 pounds.

I turned and stared warily at my friend. All I have to say is that from now on I’m going to have to be very careful around Miss Freda. If she did do what Yp accused her of, someone who can lift and toss that much weight, puts Scottish tree throwers to shame.

So there you have it: the kind, the funny, and the peculiar characters. They’re around us ever day. What about in your writing? Are your own characters as interesting?

Keep on writing!

Between Tweens: Interview with Middle Grade Author Suzanne de Montigny

theshadowoftheunicorn200x300 (2)new    SONY DSC 

During the month of April, four tween authors are interviewing each other with different questions on each blog. This week I am interviewing Suzanne de Montigny, author of the tween eBook, The Shadow of the Unicorn: The Legacy, about a unicorn colt, a clairvoyant dinosaur, and the coming of destructive humans.

Suzanne wrote her first unicorn story at the age of twelve. Several years later, she discovered it in an old box in the basement, thus reigniting her love affair with unicorns. The Shadow of the Unicorn: The Legacy, is her first novel. Suzanne lives in Burnaby, B.C., Canada, with the four loves of her life — her husband, two boys, and Buddy the dog.

Sandy: The others will be asking you different questions, but I’m curious. Where do you like best to write, and is there special music you like to listen to as you write, or do you prefer silence?

Suzanne: Very definitely silence. I can’t chew gum and walk at the same time.

Sandy: Are any of your characters based on people you’ve really met?

Suzanne: There are many different elements of people in my characters, although some people very strongly and suspiciously resemble real people, but I’ll never say who.

Sandy: Many writers freeze up and develop writer’s block. So what are some things you do to overcome writer’s block?

Suzanne: I never have writer’s block. My problem is that I have so many stories and can’t get them down fast enough.

Sandy: Very good. Would you tell us about your revision process?

Suzanne: It’s the part I like best about writing. Perfecting. But sometimes I write so by the seat of my pants that I have quite a job organizing it afterward. It can be quite exhausting. Whoever said it’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind must have been a writer.

Sandy: Funny. In conclusion, what are you doing or planning to do to grow as an author?

Suzanne: Just keep writing and reading.

Good plan. Thank you, Suzanne. I look forward to reading your book.

Suzanne’s book, The Shadow of the Unicorn: The Legacy, is available as an eBook on Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, iBooks and Muse It Up Publishing.

To receive answers from the others participating with their questions each Tuesday of this month, please check out: Madeleine McLaughlin http://madworldca.blogspot.com; Heather Fraser Brainerd (drivingblindproductions.wordpress.com); Suzanne de Montigny http://suzannesthoughtsfortheday/blogspot.ca

Top Four Marketing Tips for Books

Yes, there are thousands of marketing ideas. I want to list my top four here, and will address some others in April.

#1 Marketing tip for a book: Have a well-written book. Nothing is better advertizing than a well-written book.

#2 Marketing tip for a book: Have an outstanding cover design. Traditional house illustrators can be paid thousands of dollars for their work.

#3 Marketing tip for a book: Communicate with your readers, with the top way being a well-designed website.

And Lastly,

#4 Marketing tip for a book: Write another book. This develops a fan base.

 

Have fun with it. (<– That’s a freebee.)

Your Writing Process – Revisions and/or Rewrites

IMG_6031

This morning I stared of out my work window at leaves sparkling in the sunshine in a light breeze. Then reality struck as I realized these are last fall’s brown oak leaves, clutching onto branches overhanging snow mounds, not-not-not giving way until the new leaves force them off next month. It made me think of my present WIP.

The story has been done for months. Then, as it sat while I was involved in other projects, I began to see ways to improve WIP Story, even wanting to delete it all and begin from page one on a blank screen.

This morning, it struck me that the old dried brown oak leaf represented my WIP Story. Then I went out and took a picture of the shivering old things. Realizing no one could see the shivering in a still photo (although I’ve inserted the shot), I took a video and panned up the tree. In my mindset, I was horrified to see ALL my WIPs fluttering before me. At least hundreds of my old ideas. Thousands.

Oh, spring, come quickly! I welcome fresh green ideas and stories.

(P.S. My original intent of this post was to ask what’s YOUR writing process – if you revise as you write, if you do multiple revisions, or if you go back to the beginning and rewrite?)

Eureka! Whole Plot Threads

One of my critique partners, Rose Green, recently wrote, “I still need to do a major rewrite of this (story) because there are whole plot threads that haven’t been woven in properly.”

My first response was, “EXACTLY!” Only, I didn’t get that Eureka moment referring to her work, but of my own. I have two (more like five) novels completed through the rough drafts and several revisions and even through critique groups. Although I like the story/stories and the characters, I am still dissatisfied with them. I couldn’t figure out why I felt this way until Rose wrote this about her own WIP.

I’ve participated in whole-novel critiques, and read books on how to do it, and even taken a whole novel revision workshop. I think my problem has been that I can hit the ball and know the rules of the game, but I haven’t been as concerned with the follow-through.

Whole Plot Threads. Woven In Properly.

So now I’ll take my shrunken manuscript (wave to Darcy Pattison) and lay it, thinking how to weave in the whole plot.

Perhaps this was an eureka moment for someone reading this as well.

(Thank you, Rose.)

Your Author Social Media Footprint

In seven weeks, I’ll be speaking at a writers conference in Grand Rapids. My section is on marketing and social media. I will also be the only children’s book author speaking. No pressure. Ha.

Of course, last fall when I was chosen among the numerous possibilities of speakers, I was confident and sure. I had enough to speak the entire day alone. But like the overachiever I can be, I know there is always “more,” both laterally and longitudinally. Revision is not just a word for writers.

The number one thing any author or perspective author can do is to have a viable website. The second thing is to make sure it is updated at least monthly. Do not ignore this!

Interacting with your readers is vital to an author’s life, and social media interaction is easy and non-invasive. A blog shows the human side of being an author, being sure to give helpful advise or challenges more than advertizing. I’m thinking that blogging may be becoming a thing of the past. Twitter is the new FaceBook for interacting with readers. You can also have an author fan page on FB as well as a separate FB page for each of your books. More work, you say? Yes, indeedy.

Another way you (the author) can also interact with your readers through book reviews. You can give them so readers know that you are indeed a reader. And you can interact with those who take the time to review your book by posting a comment after their review. Needless to say, you should always be kind-worded in your responses.

Book trailers are a fun social media way to introduce your book. Warning: No matter what others say, they take a lot of work to put together well, plus the tweeking with revision after revision. But once completed, they are awesome.

Author visits can now go worldwide through Skype or FaceTime. To me, these electronic moves are more like reading digital books v.s. holding a pulpy page-turner in your digits, but the author visits get done and the books get read using both forms.

Having your book available in digital as well as print is important, since most adult readers today seem to be digital readers. Gone are the days of carrying a box of books on vacation when you can fit hundreds on a small hand-held device.

There are also listservs, forums, newsletters, blogs, articles.

My difficulty over these next seven weeks will most likely be how to condense all I know and do into my limited speaking time.

Oh. Never forget: There’s also the actual writing part of being a writer. So quit reading this and go write a scene, or a chapter, or figure out how to get your main character into even more trouble.

 

 

 

Writing the Weather

One time I was writing a desert scene and I became hotter and hotter. I was so immersed in the scene that it wasn’t until I took a break that I realized it was in the 100′s outside and I hadn’t turned on the air conditioner in the house. That was the unaware-of-your-environment part of being a writer. But physically being hot certainly helped me feel and find accurate words for being toasty and very thirsty.

Right now it’s snowing out, single digit temps, gusts driving the wind chill into -35 degrees, and I have an outdoor story needing revision which takes place in winter in Michigan which I’ve been procrastinating about. Looking outside, I see what is going on, but I questioned all morning why I didn’t sense the winteriness of it all. It seemed like I watched the weather like looking at a TV or computer screen. Warm and dry inside a house, it only looks like winter out there. I need to bundle up and go feel the weather. In years past, I used to know the temperature and wind chill and number of minutes of exposed skin for when frostbite occurs or when eyeballs freeze. (I’ve worn goggles to shovel in very cold weather before.)

Now I’m tired of talking about the weather. I don’t think my computer would last long outside to do the writing there, so I’ll go outside and experience the wind and the cold for a while so I can return to write more accurately about it.

Do you write poems? Paint? Illustrate children in snow? Go feel the cold (but stay safe and smart).

Intertwined Character and Plot

For a good story, character and plot must be intertwined. In other words, what does the character want? (Character) How does she go about getting that? (Plot) What goal does the character secretly want? (Character) How does he go about getting it? (Plot)

Even secondary characters must have motivations and purpose. If not, you must press that little old delete button. After revising my fantasy Star Opening about a dozen times over several years, I finally realized the main character’s brother had no reason to be in the story except for being an annoying little brother. He did not move the plot forward. Instead, he rather dragged on it. So after years of developing this boy, tending him, tweeking him, loving him, one afternoon I sat at the computer and read through the book with my finger on the delete key and he was g-o-n-e. Poof!

As hard as that was to do, how much harder would it be to delete a main character?

Intertwine your character’s thoughts, actions, emotions with the plot — not just what is happening around her, but every action done or thought or feeling she has to reach her goals.

Reading Literary Geniuses and Your Writing

Reading is as much a part of writing as storytelling is. We can learn so much from previous literary geniuses. The experts (agents, editors, best-selling authors) advise writers to read currently published books in your reader-age and genre. I, too, encourage this enlightening thing to do. What I would also like to suggest is to revisit past books you love.

Another of my New Year’s Resolutions this year was to reread some classics. I thought of “two” I’ve loved in my past: George McDonald books and Arabian Nights. (I know I’ll read more than just these, but they are on my absolutely to-do list.)

Several times in my past I’ve started Tales from the Arabian Nights, (from Sir Richard Burton’s English translation of part one of the ten volume story); still it’s nearly 900 pages long. My goal is to finish this one volume in 2014. The stories within stories within stories are fascinating, and undoubtedly the reason why Shahrazad not only lived but saved the lives of so many women. What a study on plot! My trouble with the intertwining tales in the past has been if I put the book down for a couple of weeks, I find I must go back and reread lots in order to figure out which story thread the present tale is generated from. So, no two-week put downs this year!

I’ve read many a George McDonald book (English translated) and have rarely found such memorable characters. My intention to reread some of his books was merely to re-acquaint myself with some dear old friends. I’ve started The Fisherman’s Lady, and to my delight and duh-surprise, I’ve rediscovered that McDonald wrote books set in his contemporary time period, which so happens to be the very time period of which I write with my historical novels. And doubly ironic, Richard Burton’s translations were made in the 1880′s. Hey! That’s my writing time period, too!

But please, writers, besides reading currently written or classic books for studying purposes, don’t forget to read for the enjoyment! Now excuse me while I head back in time and place to northern Scotland.