Interview with a Jot Presenter | Ellen Stumbo

Ellen-Stumbo-Head-Shot

In case you did not know, the Jot Writers’ Conference happens tomorrow night. I thought we might take a moment and get to know one of the presenters, Ellen Stumbo.

The rest of the presenters are from the West Michigan area, but Ellen is visiting us from the wilds of Wisconsin. If you aren’t familiar with her writing, read on.

We did the following Q&A over email:

Can you give us a 2-3 sentence autobiography?

I write and speak about finding beauty in brokenness with gritty honesty and openness. I am passionate about sharing the real -sometimes beautiful and sometimes ugly – aspects of faith, disability, parenting, and adoption.

Which authors have influenced your writing?

Jerry Spinelli! I love him, love his books, I laugh out loud, I fight back tears, and he writes the type of books I want to write someday.

Leif Enger and his book Peace Like a River. I can read that book just for the pleasure of good writing, I savor the words, close my eyes and repeat some of the sentences. His writing is beautiful.

Markus Zuzak and his book The Book Thief. Another book I read again and again for the craft of writing. His metaphors are flawless and effortless!

Cec Murphy. You want an author that is honest, open, vulnerable, and willing to show the depths of his heart? That’s Cec Murphy. I am challenged by his writing, and he encourages me to be brave.

What current projects are you working on?

An ebook for my website subscribers. Simple project, a compilation of posts.

A memoir. I was not qualified to parent a child with a disability, but God had other plans and my youngets daughter was born with Down syndrome. I wrestled with God, after all, my husband was a pastor and we had given our lived to Him, so why my baby? Thankfully I saw God’s good gift in my daughter, and my husband and I adopted another child with a disability, a little girl with cerebral palsy. Disability now is  apart of our life, our church, our future.

A young adult novel. Confession: I want to write fiction. I have several novels in my head and the story outlines written down. I finally started one of them last November (NaNoWriMo). I hope to finish it this year.

Some of my projects are monthly commitments  with different publishers. They pay the bills..or not, but I like writing for them anyway, I consider it an honor to write with the people I write.

Why do you write what you write?

I write because I want to offer hope, courage, and community to whomever is reading.

I write because I don’t want the hurting, struggling, or broken to think that they are alone in this journey of life.

And since you asked, I have a post about it on my blog, but I will be talking about this at the conference, so if you read it, spoiler alert!

Can you give us a brief summary of your Jot presentation?

“The Gift of Vulnerability”

Vulnerability is a gift you give to your readers, it really is. It is scary because most of us like to keep the most personal, the most vulnerable, hidden from others. Being vulnerable opens you up to criticism, but it is worth it. It is the reason I write.

Henri Nouwen says,  “The most personal is the most universal, the most hidden is the most public, and the most solitary is the most communal. What we live in the most intimate places of our being is not just for us but for all people. That is why our inner lives are lives for others.”

And do you have any advice for people interested in writing?

  •  Write!
  •  Have others read what you write, it’s part of being a writer, you need the feedback, so you might as well do it now. Maybe you have a blog, maybe you have close friends read your words and give you feedback, but either way get your words out there.
  • Write some more! It’s a craft, it only gets better if you keep practicing.

Excited for JOT!

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8 Questions | Meet Patrick W. Carr

patrickwcarrI would like to introduce you to Patrick W. Carr.

I just finished reading the second in Patrick W. Carr‘s The Staff & The Sword series, The Hero’s Lot, and I thought I’d drop a note to the author to tell him how much I enjoyed it. To my pleasant surprise, he wrote back. And so I asked Patrick if he’d be willing to answer a few questions for me to share with you, my blog readers.

9780764210440If you haven’t read the series yet, make sure you pick it up soon (here’s my review for The Hero’s Lot).

Here’s the interview:

1. How long have you been working on the Staff & the Sword series?

I started the series back in ’06 or ’07. I was a few chapters in when I decided I didn’t really like the direction it was headed, os I stopped. About four years ago I had an “aha” moment about how to approach the story and really began to work on it. I had most of the first book written by the fall of 2010 and started working on the sequels the following year.

2. Where did you learn about the fighting techniques that you use in the series?

I fenced a bit in college. The rest of it I studied. As far as describing the pain of different injuries goes, I just relied on all the different sports injuries I suffered. I’m pretty well acquainted with that type of pain, so the prose came pretty easily.

3. If you could have lunch with one of your characters, who would you choose?

It would probably be Martin. He’s well-educated but without being proud, well, not overly proud anyway. I’d like to just talk to him and have him teach me the important things he’s learned about God.

4. Some readers of traditional Christian books may have trouble with some of the choices that your characters make or the amount of violence in the books. What would you tell these potential readers?

I would tell them that history is a long stretch of violence interrupted by brief moments of peace. If one reads the Bible as an historical document (in addition to it being God’s inspired word) what will come across is that we inhabit a violent world populated by people who make bad choices. I think we need to be careful about presenting a sterilized version of our faith. If the requirement for the Church is that we no longer make bad choices, I’m pretty sure I’ll be one of the first people that gets kicked out.

5. Given how seamlessly your first two books fit together, did you complete the whole series before getting the first book published, or are you writing them one at a time?

I wrote books two and three after the first book came out but the story I wrote was all one. In essence, what I really had to do was find resolution points for each book, not come up with additional story lines. The most difficult ending to write was actually for “A Cast of Stones,” the first book in the series.

6. Would you describe your writing space?

I’m either parked at the dining room table or hanging out at Starbuck’s. Either way, I like to have a cup of coffee beside me and maybe some chocolate munchies to go with it. If I’m at Starbuck’s, I’m listening to the music, but if I’m at home I’ve got my earbuds in and I’m letting some easy jazz wash over me. That and my laptop is really all I need.

7. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Join a writer’s group. Join a critique group. Study the craft (Stein on Writing is great). And be patient. The publishing industry moves at a glacial pace. It takes years to get published.

8. What do you want people to know about you aside from your writing?

The writing is enough. There’s not much about me that’s remarkable, but if folks are curious, they can visit my website: www.patrickwcarr.com

8 Questions | Meet Author Ben Avery

It was lunchtime, and since our bookstore is in a state of massive renovation, the book buyers were having a sales meeting in the break room where the rest of us eat lunch. I was attempting to ignore the ordering discussions by reading the second in the George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, A Clash of Kings, when the sales rep, Larry, asked me a question.

“What are you reading?”

“It’s a George R. R. Martin book,” I said. “The one right after A Game of Thrones, which HBO just made into a series.”

“I know that series,” he said. “Did you know that my son Ben wrote the Marvel comic book adaptation for Martin’s Hedge Knight series?”

“Really? I didn’t think Martin was big on other writers touching his characters.”

“He’s not,” said Larry. “But he liked what my son did. In fact, he said that if Marvel ever wants to adapt any of his other things, my son is the only one he’ll trust to do the job.”

“Wow,” said I. “Do you think Ben would be willing to do an interview with me for my blog?”

“You should ask him.”

So I did.

Capt. Ben Avery, of the Starship Awesome.

The interview:

1. How did you get into writing?

I’ve always been writing and telling stories, since I was old enough to string sentences together. And I was always making comics, although I got impatient with how much time it took to draw them. Professionally, after I graduated college, I just started writing comics with some friends and made some contacts with artists, and that led to me getting to do a try out for a writing gig, which turned into my first professional writing: George R. R. Martin’s The Hedge Knight.

2. You did the comic book adaptation for George R. R. Martin’s Hedge Knight series. Martin is well-known for not wanting anyone else touching his works or characters. How did you come to work on his books through Marvel Comics?

Well, it wasn’t originally published by Marvel. Originally, a studio got the license from Mr. Martin, and they shopped it around to publishers, with Image taking it up at first. Then, after some weirdness with Image, it was moved to Devil’s Due, and after some weirdness THERE, Marvel picked it up.

Now, how did that original studio get the license? They promised to be true to his original story. And that’s how I got the job, too. I worked hard to make my sample script as close to his story as possible. In fact, the first six pages of The Hedge Knight is almost exactly what my sample script was. Mr. Martin appreciated how hard I worked to stay true to the original. The way I see it, on a job like that, my job is to be invisible. My job is to give something to the artist that allows them to shine, and to spotlight the original. After all, it’s George R.R. Martin’s The Hedge Knight, not Ben Avery’s.

3. How does your writing change when adapting someone else’s work as opposed to working on an original series?

If I am working on something not original with me, either a true life story, history, someone’s fictional story, or the Bible, my goal is to keep the integrity of their story within a new medium. That does mean some changes have to be made, but I will do my best to make sure changes in the format or length do not change the heart of the story.

So my job is to choose what comes out to shorten it. Or what needs to be added because comics are a visual medium. Transitions in one medium have to be done differently.

It’s not always easy, but it’s fun.

4. What do you want people to know about you aside from your writing?

This is a tough question. I mean, it’s not like I’m a private person. I just can’t think of something I particularly want people to know. I guess I could use this to say I also podcast . . . I host a podcast about sci-fi, fantasy, and Christianity. The podcast is called Strangers and Aliens and it’s a lot of fun talking about the spiritual themes found in the tv shows, comics, and movies we enjoy.

5. Any advice for other writers?

Get a good editor. Find a person or people who you trust to be honest with you and also know grammar and story. Set them loose on what you’ve written.

This person should not be your mother, unless she’s able to separate you the child room you the writer. This person should not be your spouse, or your best friend, or your grandmother unless they are able to really look at the work and forget your relationship.

This is especially important if you are self-publishing or going through some sort of digital publishing service with no editorial oversight. The digital age makes it possible for everyone to do anything, it seems, but unfortunately, that means that far too many people feel like they are masters of everything, too. But I would say that even a master editor, when they take on the role of writer, needs someone who can edit their writing.

6. If you could have an afternoon with a character from one of your works, who would you choose? Why?

The Timeflyz, from my all ages graphic novel series. First, I like them. I’d enjoy hanging out with them — of all my characters, these are the characters who surprise me the mist with their actions and reactions to my plots. Second, I’d love for them to tell me about some of the people they have met in their travels through time. And maybe I could convince them to take me along with them for a short trip . . .

7. What is your writing space like?

It’s a mess. A serious, serious mess. Sadly. Eventually, we’re going to get the money to move my office downstairs and shuffle around all our bedrooms. When we do that, I give the new office three weeks before it’s a mess. A serious, serious mess.

I do, however, often leave the house to work in places like our local grocery store’s cafe and Starbucks or something like that. I often need the change of scenery, but also I need to have people around me . . . Just not people I am responsible for.

8. What book is on your nightstand at the moment?

I’m reading The Skin Map by Stephen Lawhead right now. There are other books on my nightstand, but this is the one I am actually reading. I’ve been a big fan of Lawhead since his earliest writings, when he was doing sci-fi instead of fantasy, and followed him through his fantasy books, but in the last decade or so I haven’t read any of his new books. I’m playing catch up now. Also right there is Eion Colfer’s And Another Thing, the sixth book in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, but I just haven’t been able to bring myself to read it. It’s just not the same, a non-Douglas Adams chronicle of Arthur Dent and Zaphod and Marvin.

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If you’d like to know more about Ben Avery, check out his website (http://benavery.com). Thanks for reading!

8 Questions | Meet Author Lisa Williams Kline

YA Author, Lisa Williams Kline

Last week, I posted a link to my review for Lisa Williams Kline’s book, The Summer of the Wolves. After reading the book and writing up my review, I wrote the author and asked if she would be willing to do an interview with me.

Long-story-short, she was. Though Lisa’s books are meant for a different audience than thirty-year-old guys like me, I enjoyed her portrayal of family, and the research that she conducted to prepare for her writing really comes through. I hope you’ll enjoy the interview and I hope you’ll go out and buy her books (at your local Christian bookstore, of course) and enjoy them as well.

The interview:

1. YA Fiction writer, Melissa Kantor, once said, “Writing about teenagers (for me), means not just remembering but being willing to dwell in that place where life felt like walking a tightrope without a net.” How do you get into the mindset of modern teenage girls?

That is a great quote! When people have asked me about writing for young people, I have jokingly told them that I am emotionally stuck at age thirteen. That’s just a joke, of course (I hope) but I will admit to being overly self-conscious and sensitive to criticism, which can be part of the teen mindset. There is a heightened awareness as a teen about being excluded socially and I still feel that, even as an adult. I also have two daughters – grown now – and raising them helped me reenter that space. I also taught a creative writing workshop for teens for several years, and so I got to be around them for a couple of hours a week. Teens can be vulnerable and carry their pain outside themselves and I can feel it and so deeply empathize with them.

2. Your book, Summer of the Wolves, includes a lot of descriptive information about animals. How did you do your research?

I have tried to find an expert to interview or meet with for each of my books. For example, for Wild Horse Spring I spent a day with the herd manager for the wild horses on the Outer Banks. And for Winter’s Tide, I did several telephone interviews with two professors from UNC Wilmington who are experts on whale strandings. For my current book, I have visited a wildlife rehabilitator. And of course I do research online.

3. Describe your writing space.

Wow, no one has ever asked me that! It’s such a mess. I have turned one of the bedrooms of our house into an office and I have an L-shaped desk against the window and one wall. Bookcases line the other two walls. On top of the bookcases are pictures of my family. All along the floor are piles of notes from classes, manuscripts, and so on. I keep research materials from each novel stacked in plastic bins beside my desk. And then there are two severely neglected hanging plants that have managed to survive for many years. Oh, and our Dachshund/Chihuahua mix, Calvin Kline, perpetually snores on the floor behind me.

4. After listing your many academic achievements, you mention in the biography on your website (http://lisawilliamskline.com) that you learned to drive a forklift for a recent job. What is the story there?

I had an administrative job several years ago working for a company that sold cleaning powder for printing presses. The powder came in gigantic bins that had to be moved by forklift, so I had to learn to drive one. I was pretty tentative about it, but my boss said at least I didn’t poke a hole in the wall, which some of the previous employees had done.

5. Though your books are available at all the major book chains and Amazon, you ask readers to support the independent booksellers. First, as an employee at one of those Indie bookstores, thank you. Second, why is it important to you to support the Indies?

Most writers I know love independent bookstores. Every independent bookstore has its own personality. The employees give customers personal attention, and they go out of their way to work with authors. Right now an independent bookstore near me has put up a display of my books since I’m a local author. I was so touched!

6. Any advice for aspiring writers?

Never underestimate the benefit of practice. People would never dream of trying to play basketball or a musical instrument without practicing, but they often think that writing doesn’t require practice. But it’s just like anything else, the more you practice, the better you get. Also, be persistent. I have been in workshops and critique groups with so many people who were more talented than I am, but I was just more persistent. I kept at it after others gave up.

7. What book is on your nightstand?

Oh, gosh, I’m so flattered, this is the kind of question all those famous writers get asked and I am always intimidated by what they say. I have about twenty books on my nightstand! It drives my husband crazy because every week or so one of our cats walks on the stack and knocks them over. Okay, I just went and looked. State of Wonder and Run by Ann Patchett, Inkheart by Cornelia Funke, The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak, From Where You Dream by Robert Olen Butler, Traveling Mercies by Ann Lamott, Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind by Ann. B. Ross, Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry, The Beginner’s Goodbye by Ann Tyler, Ask the Passengers by A. S. King, Georgie’s Moon by my friend Chris Woodworth and Madhattan Mystery by my friend John J. Bonk.

8. What do you want people to know aside from your writing?

Hmmm.  When I was young I made a silent movie with some of the other kids in the neighborhood that was called “A Railroad Tie” or “Marriage on the Tracks.” The movie was about a penniless young woman who couldn’t pay her rent and a mean landlord and a handsome hero who leaped on camera to say, “I’ll pay the rent!” and then married her. I didn’t write the screenplay – a very talented young man who lived down the street did that – but I did write the subtitles on cards. I held them up and instructed my dad, the photographer, only to shoot the cards and absolutely not to get me in the picture. Of course, like any doting dad, he did not follow my instructions, so we had these home movies of plump me, wearing my cat-eye glasses, holding the cards. I was mortified.

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Thanks Lisa! I wish you many successful books ahead!

8 Questions | Meet Author L. B. Graham

Fantasy Author, L. B. Graham

Today, I’d like to introduce you to a fantastic fantasy (redundant?) author. I was first introduced to the books of L. B. Graham by a college friend at a Christian publishing trade show. After college, my friend Jesse went to work for P&R Publishing while pursuing a graduate degree. P&R Publishing is better known for Reformed theological tomes than fiction, so I was surprised when Jesse pressed a copy of Graham’s Beyond the Summerland into my hands and said, “As a fellow Lord of the Rings fan, I think you’ll like this.” And I did. Admittedly, it took me a minute to get past the book cover (fantasy covers can be notoriously bad), but once I got into the story, I really enjoyed it.

First in the Binding of the Blade series

A couple years later, I got to meet L. B. Graham at the same trade show. He and I got into a discussion of his book covers and I remember how very honest he was about them. I told him that I enjoyed the books in spite of their covers and I would do what I could to promote them in my bookstore. Unlike meeting some authors you like only to discover that you only like their books and would never like them in real life, it was a good experience.

I recently friended (I remember back when “friend” was just a noun; I must be getting old) L. B. Graham on Facebook. I reintroduced myself and asked if he would be willing to do an interview with me so you all could meet him. He was happy to do so. After reading the interview, I encourage you to visit his website (http://blog.lbgraham.com/) and buy all of his books.

The interview:

1. Fantasy writer Terry Goodkind once said, “Fantasy allows you to shine a different kind of light on human beings. I believe the only valid use of fantasy is to illustrate important human themes.” What themes do you illustrate in your books?

It’s a good question, even if it does reference Terry Goodkind (oh wait, did I say that out loud?), so let me see… My first series, “The Binding of the Blade,” revolved around the theme of ‘longing for restoration.’ It imagines a world where the making of weapons represents ‘the Fall’ and where the ‘unmaking’ of weapons is a prelude to Restoration. As such, it wrestles a good bit with what it means to navigate a broken world while yearning for a perfect one.

My current fantasy series, “The Wandering,” (which begins with “The Darker Road,” coming in the spring) revolves around a very different theme than my first. Namely, that a world that rejects its maker and puts its trust and hope in lesser things might find that for this rebellion, a price might have to be paid. So, it is kind of a judgment theme and pretty different than the restoration theme of BOTB.

Like Huck Finn, only with robots.

My Indie book, “The Raft, The River, and The Robot,” which is a slightly dystopic, futuristic novel inspired in large part by “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” wrestles – much like the book that inspired it – with identity. How do we find and define ourselves, and to what extent do parents and social context shape us, both in that we are molded by them and in that we push away at times from them.

And, having said all this, I hasten to add that the books are more interesting than this might make them sound. J The theme is often under and behind the story, not up front in preachy ways, I hope…

2. When and why did you start writing fiction?

While I had tackled a few stories before this, my first real story was “Killer Kudzu,” a choose-your-own-adventure story written in about 1982, I think. I wrote it on index cards as part of a project for school.  I continued to dabble in fiction in High School and College, and occasionally thereafter.

In seminary, I did an independent study on “the Problem of Pain” and part of my arrangement with my supervising professor was that I could report on my work with a story, rather than a traditional paper, and I wrote a 60 page story for that.

I didn’t start working on a novel for publication until 1998/1999, when I began in earnest to turn that story into a novel, and even though I didn’t finish it, it got my wheels turning and led pretty soon to my decision to go back to the fantasy idea I’d had years before when I was a college student, and that eventually became “The Binding of the Blade.”

3. Describe your writing space.

This may be less than inspirational, but these days it is usually a booth at McDonalds. The soda is cheap and the internet is free, and I hunker down for a while and get to work.

I wrote my first series, alternating between home (on some weekday nights) and my classroom (on Saturday afternoons), but as my kids have grown and I live further from the school where I teach, I’ve adapted. All I really need is my computer and some headphones to drown out the world, and I’m ready to go…

4. Your Binding of the Blade series was published by P&R Publishing, then you published two books independently, and you’ve got a book coming next year from Living Ink Books (publisher of Bryan Davis’ Dragons in Our Midst series). Which has been the best publishing experience? Why?

I’m going to do something unusual for me and take the tactful approach here and say ‘they aren’t better or worse, they’re different.’

Actually, I don’t have much of a choice, because while I worked with P&R pretty constantly between 2002 and 2008, and have since had a few years to reflect on that experience, I don’t have nearly the perspective on my Indie experience or Living Ink.

Having said that, they really are different. After working with a traditional publisher, I really enjoyed the creative control of Indie publishing. I made final decisions on covers, and on titles, etc, and that was great. Consequently, I have a finished product that really does fit my vision for each of those stories.

Another of Graham’s indie titles

At the same time, I spent my money to get those books to that level of professional quality, I have to try to market them myself, and so on. Both the financial risk and potential reward grow exponentially with Indie publishing, so the jury is still out on the wisdom of going that way.

As for Living Ink, the decision to go with them had a lot to do with the fact that they’ve consciously worked to create a fantasy presence in the Christian market, where many Christian publishers are hesitant to commit to fantasy as a genre. I applaud and appreciate that commitment.

5. Can you tell us about your upcoming book, The Darker Road?

“The Darker Road” is the story of the dramatic collapse of an empire. I don’t want to give too much away, but the King of this empire has stolen a powerful talisman of sorts, and he is using it to strengthen his already considerable military might. And even as he is preparing to use that might to further subdue the empire he governs, the rightful keepers of the talisman come looking for it. That’s how it all starts, anyway, and the conflict that ensues is only the beginning.

There is a pretty cool ‘alternative technology’ system in the series, which makes for some fun devices and weapons and so forth. This also creates a pretty unique feel for the stories, as they don’t quite fit into the traditional, medieval/semi-medieval feel of many fantasy worlds. At the same time, I definitely think the series fits the ‘fantasy’ mold, even if it stretches some of the conventions.

For example, I think one of the fascinating things about fantasy is this contrast in fantasy stories between a way of life that is somewhat archaic, or behind us, and magic and magical abilities which give the characters abilities that are beyond us. In “The Darker Road,” I think the reader will get a similar experience, where sometimes the world feels dated, and in other ways, very advanced.

6. Any advice for aspiring writers?

Lots, but I’ll stay basic: read & write. The absolute, non-negotiable foundation for becoming a good writer is to read & write.  You need to read, read, read, so you can learn the craft of writing from those who have gone before, and you need to write, write, write, since no one (or almost no one, anyway) ever becomes good at anything without lots and lots of practice.

7. What book is on your nightstand?

I am trying to read three different books right now.  When I’m on my recumbent exercise bike in the basement, I am currently reading “Sword at Sunset,” which is Rosemary Sutcliff’s version of King Arthur. When I am in bed and up for a challenge, I’m re-reading “War in Heaven” by Charles Williams – which of course means that “The Novels of Charles Williams” by Tom Howard is also on my nightstand, since I never try to read Williams without it handy. Lastly, when I’m in bed and too tired to venture into Williams & only looking for ‘easy reading,’ I’m reading Book 5 of the “The Dark Tower” series by Stephen King. I haven’t read much King, but some friends and former students encouraged me to read his ‘epic fantasy’ series, and so I’m working my way through it.

8. What do you want people to know aside from your writing?

This is a very open-ended question, so I’ll take full advantage. What I want people to know is that Christianity is about grace, not moralism, and I think when Christians set out to be story tellers, they need to keep this in mind. A book isn’t Christian because the people in it behave morally, even as a person isn’t a Christian because he or she tries to behave morally. We need a better, more faithful, deeper standard of evaluation than that.

And with that, I’ll say thanks to you, Josh, for the interview, and best wishes to all of your blog readers!

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No, L. B. Graham. Thank you.

8 Questions | Meet Author M. I. McAllister

M. I. McAllister

A while back, I reviewed the first book in the Mistmantle Chronicles by M. I. McAllister, Urchin of the Riding Stars. I’ll save you the time of reading the review and tell you that it was an excellent book.

I wanted to thank the author for writing it, so I found her website and sent off an email of thanks and a link to my review.

I really didn’t expect to hear anything back, but the next day, I got a message in my inbox from Margi McAllister herself! We’ve written back and forth a couple of times since, so I asked if I could interview her on my blog. She kindly consented.

Here are the questions I asked:

– What does your writing space look like?

– What passes through your brain when you see one of your books on the shelf at a bookshop?

– What do you want people to know about your aside from your writing?

– How did you get into writing?

– Any advice for other writers?

– What would you do if you could no longer write books?

– If you could have an afternoon with a character from one of your books, who would you choose? Why?

– What book is on your nightstand at the moment?

Here are her responses:

My writing space at present is tucked away at the top of the house.  We have a converted attic, which is one long room divided up by the furniture.  At one end is my daughter’s room (she’s grown up and lives away from home, so she’s not often there,)  at the other end is my study, and in between is the Pink Sitting-Room where men are only allowed if they take off their shoes and promise not to talk about football.

The laptop sits on a rather elegant writing bureau which I bought for very little in an antique market, and there are masses of deep bookshelves, crammed solid.  It looks untidy, but I know which heap everything is in!  The clutter is more to do with the work I do for children’s clubs and school visits.  And when I look up from the desk I have a beautiful view of the moors.

You ask about what passes through my mind when I see one of my books in a shop.  There’s a little jump of my heart to see that they’ve got it, followed by – why haven’t they sold that yet?

What do I want people to know about me apart from my writing?  Not a lot, really, except my storytelling sessions!  Anything I do want to talk about is on the blog, which is From The House of Stories (you can find it through the website at www.margaretmcallister.co.uk .  Things I want to share – about faith, about the things I care about, about what’s going on nationally or locally, and anything I find funny – are all in there.  I’m passionate about justice, and about doing the best for children.  I’m blessed to have lived in and visited some blessed and beautiful places, and I like sharing them.  I love gardens, history, and wildlife.  Of course my family are more than vital to me, but I don’t want my children’s privacy invaded so I’m a bit cautious in what I say about them.

I’ve always written.  I was born that way, and I can’t help it.  That’s my defense, and I’m sticking with it.  At school I was always writing things, (usually when I was supposed to be something else) and I have a great record of failing to get published.  Then, when my youngest son started school, I took an evening class in writing short stories.  That led to me getting stories published in magazines, which gave me confidence to write my first book, A Friend for Rachel, later renamed The Secret Mice.

For other writers – read.  Read.  Read more.  If you like a book, what made it work for you?  If you didn’t, what was wrong with it?  Don’t just think about writing, do it.  And don’t wait for inspiration.  Just write.

What would I do if I could no longer write?  I often wonder about this!  I use to say I’d retrain in geriatric care – lots of people want to look after little children, but there’s nothing so attractive about looking after elderly, and they’re so important.  But since injuring my back, I don’t think I  could do all that heavy lifting.  I’d have to go back to one of the jobs I’ve done before – home tutoring, adult education, caring for a beautiful old building, working in a retreat house, or washing up in a coffee shop – I’m not too proud to get my hands dirty!

Which of my characters would I like to spend an afternoon with?  What a great question!  It’s not one I’ve ever considered before.  Kazy Clare from Hold My Hand and Run would be great company.  I admire Thomasin from High Crag Linn enormously, but she can be a bit prickly.  I’d love to spend an afternoon with Fingal, because he makes me laugh, or Urchin with all those adventures to talk about.   Or Sepia – she’s a calm, gentle person, but so tough inside.  But if I could only choose one, it would have to be Crispin.  The hero’s hero.  He has such experience and wisdom, such a strong centre, and a way of noticing more than he lets on.  And a perfect gentle-squirrel.  (Do you think we could meet in Fir’s turret, so he could be there, too?  He contains elements of people who were very dear to me.)

What am I reading just now?  Several things at once.  An Aspect of Fear, by Grace Sheppard, who was the wife of the Bishop of Liverpool.  She was agoraphobic, and wrote from her experiences of dealing with fear while filling a public role.

I love anything by Simon Parke, who writes with authority about quietness, meditation, and the need to embrace simplicity.  The book of his I have on the go just now is The Beautiful Life.  I heard him speak at Greenbelt Christian Arts Festival a few years ago.

My younger son introduced me to the works of Terry Pratchett, and I LOVE Discworld!  They are clever, moving, great page-turners, and actually have some depth.  Did I mention that they’re laugh out loud funny?  Just now I’m reading Lords and Ladies.  A unicorn just got lost on the way through a stone circle.  As Granny Weatherwax would say, oh deary, deary me.

I normally edit things so they follow more of a question/answer format, but I didn’t want to risk editing out the beautiful answers that Margi gave.

I sincerely hope that you’ll go out and buy as many of her books as you can carry. Thanks for reading!

8 Questions | Meet Roger Colby from Writing is Hard Work

Roger Colby & J.R.R. Tolkien

Today’s post is an interview that I did with fellow blogger and writer, Roger Colby of Writing is Hard Work. If you aren’t following Roger’s blog yet, check it out. If you don’t know where to start, I really enjoyed his recent post on J.R.R. Tolkien’s Ten Tips for Writers.

Anyway, on to the interview!

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1. How did you get into writing?

As a teen I felt kind of like an outcast, so I didn’t really have too many close friends.  I wasn’t a social butterfly, so I spent a lot of time reading.  During my sophomore year in high school I took a creative writing course that changed my life.  I found out that there was something I could do that made people hang on my every word.  Although I was capable of straight “A’s” this was the first class to which I gave everything.  I have been writing in one way or another ever since.  I wrote short stories up until about 4 years ago.  I have a massive collection of these short stories, and many of them are bursting at the seams to become novels.

2. As an English teacher, what is the one thing that you want all of your students to learn above all else?

I want my students to learn how to think for themselves, know why they think it and have evidence for those thoughts.  Too many students are told by a well meaning teacher: “Just write whatever you feel.  It’s ok.  Just write.”  This breeds idiocy.  When students enter my classroom they must support their opinions with fact.  I do not give out knowledge, they find it.

3. What fills your creativity well?

Believe it or not it has never really run dry.  I think there must be a synapse in there that is made from that adamantium Wolverine claw metal.  However, I do find that time alone with a book or time alone on a walk along my road (I live in the country) usually causes my brain to start churning out ideas.  I then have to write them all down in a little notebook or on my iPhone.  I quickly forget them otherwise.

4. How do you balance your writing with the rest of your life?

I have four great children and a wife who is awesome.  I also teach full time, administrate an alternative education program and am active in my local church.  I have to budget out my time.  Time management is probably a writer’s most important tool.  I have about two hours for writing a day scheduled.  I have an hour in the morning scheduled for blogging and another hour scheduled for social networking.  I schedule weekends mostly for the kids and dating my wife.  I must write 1000 words a day, whether or not the writing is absolute garbage.  I also have a wife who understands how important writing is to me.  She is a huge part of my writing flame.

5. Why did you pursue the self-publishing route instead of the traditional publishing model?

I have sent my stuff off for years.  I have published a few things over the years in small local magazines, but nothing that could make it through the glass ceiling of the national publications.  I have a drawer full and a deleted sector of my hard drive full of rejection letters.  Most of them are automated and I know that they didn’t even look at my material.  I became very cynical about the publishing industry when they published Twilight.  That book is a total rag.  It is full of errors, plot holes, and general bad writing.  I scraped together a bunch of money ($2000) and published my first novel through Outskirts Press, a fleecing agency for the uninformed.  After discovering Amazon Createspace and Kindle, Nook and Smashwords, I realized that I could use blogging and social media to help me get more readers and publish for next to nothing.  Self publishing gives me an avenue to get all of this writing down the pipeline so that it is not sitting around on my desktop like the trained dog no one will ever see perform.

6. What are you doing as a self-published author to promote your books?

As stated above, I am blogging regularly, using Facebook and Twitter to network and interact with people who may be potential readers.  I am using a marketing strategy that is somewhat experimental.  The self-published book series “Wool” reached the best seller list because A) the writing is good B) he offered his novel in digital installments which were free and C) he build buzz through blogging and social media.  I am not expecting my book to be a best seller, but I am doing everything to help it along that I can.  It is a lot of work, but worth it if I can at least sell 100 copies (the best case scenario for a self published author).

7. What advice to you have for people considering self-publishing?

Do it.  However, before you go uploading your tome to the internet you might want to consider a few things: 1) Write well. Amazon, at last estimate, had almost 1 million digital books in their library.  Many of these (or I should say most) are people who are not really writers who are lazy and do not care to clean up their grammar or spelling or type-os and are absolutely embarrassing the market.  2) Get an editor.  Find a professional editor and then PAY them to edit your text.  3) Find a writer’s group.  There are writers groups in your area that probably meet at the local library or somewhere.  Get plugged in to that group and have them critique your work.  LISTEN to their critique.  You are not God’s gift to the publishing world.  Be humble.  Take your lumps.  Become a better writer.

8. What do you want people to know about you aside from your writing?

I am an avid fanboy.  I have a full-on, screen accurate Ghostbusters costume, a custom Mandalorian costume, and a 1940’s Captain America costume complete with metal shield.  I do charity events to raise money for Spencer Children’s Hospital and the MDA.  I do this with a local group of fanboys and girls (www.jediokc.com) and geek out with them on a regular basis.  I also consider myself a “world” Christian in that I am absolutely against the “Americanized” version of Christianity that is used as a mule by politicians and is a weekend hobby for most people and a poor representation of what Christianity is meant to be.  I have been to China for 5 weeks, and other missions efforts, and have seen Christianity as it is practiced in other countries.  If only American Christians had the guts that Chinese Christians had, this would be a better world.