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!

I am a husband. Part II

A while back, I was inspired by a series of posts that Jessie Clemence had done on her blog and I interviewed my wife. That interview has proven to be one of my most popular posts over time, which makes sense, because my wife makes everything better.

Well, anyway, she and I were chatting about ideas for blog posts and she asked if I would consent to her interviewing me. I did. Here are her questions and my answers.

What are you looking forward to most about being a father of two?

I love being a parent and seeing you (my wife) as a parent. Our daughter is simply adorable and I can’t wait to see another little girl who is half me and half you (my wife again). Also, I’m looking forward to seeing how Adie is with her sister.

What other hobbies do you have besides writing?

I collect Lego sets, specifically the viking, adventure, and castle sets. Though I just saw some Lord of the Rings themed sets that make me want to eat my words about how I hate that Lego is going after franchises. I also collect Dr Pepper knock-offs (the regional drinks that try their best to be Dr Pepper without coming anywhere close). My favorite is probably Doctor by the Our Family brand, because it didn’t even bother to come up with a replacement for Pepper like Dr. Thunder, Dr. Nehi, and Dr. M did. Plus, I am a fan of the show Doctor Who, who also goes by simply, the Doctor.

What is something that you do that gives you personal satisfaction or makes you proud?

I am a sucker for praise, especially of any of my creative endeavors. I know that I should care less or not at all what other people think about stuff, but I also know that I’m a born people-pleaser, and it makes me happy to make other people happy. If I can create a thing that gives joy, it will give me joy. It is probably strange then that one of my novels is dystopian and doesn’t end happily. I guess I’m complicated.

If you could be any character from your novels or short stories, which would you be? Why?

I would love to be Tom, the invisible roommate of my Thom & Tom series. He’s such a goofball and doesn’t care what people think about him. He lives by his own rules and whether he intends to or not, brings a bit of joy to his roommate, Thom. Also, he’s invisible, so that’s pretty cool.

If you could make any book you’ve read reality, what would you choose?

I love the idea that M. I. McAllister’s Mistmantle series could be happening for real somewhere, that there could really be an island of chivalrous squirrels, playful otter, bustling hedgehogs, and hardworking moles living in harmony. Plus, many of my other favorite books have some pretty scary bits that I would hate to see in reality.

What is it that, in your opinion, makes you so incredibly awesome?

My wife. She’s the awesome one. You were probably just thinking of her. I don’t blame you. I like to think of her too.

If you could have a super power, which would you choose? Would you let people know about your power or use a secret identity?

I would like the ability to transform one kind of substance into another kind of substance, like iron into gold, or dirt into gasoline. I would be called “The Alchemist”. Unless I had some kind of invincibility that went along with my other powers, I would keep my identity secret. I have a feeling that I wouldn’t be safe otherwise. Plus, my family would always be in danger of being kidnapped for ransom and such. So yeah, a secret identity would be good. I’m not sure how I’d fight crime, but I bet I could give more to charity, and that’s like the same thing.

Do you have a guilty pleasure? What is it?

I very much enjoy the game Diablo II. I know that Diablo III just came out, and someday I’m sure we’ll get it, but at the moment, I don’t know when we’d play.

Do you think watching TV can help or hurt your writing and level of creativity?

I’m a bit torn on this question. I was a the quintessential couch potato growing up, and I consumed a lot of television. As a result, I learned a lot about how stories are put together and about characters that I enjoyed. I would come up with stories and drawings based on what I had seen on television. Today, I watch a couple of shows every few weeks, but I don’t have time for much more. If I were as addicted to television now as I was when I was growing up, I know that my writing would suffer, but more due to the time constraints than to being dumbed down by TV.

What is one things that never fails to make you laugh?

Juvenile bodily functions. Every time.

What is your favorite book of all time?

I have to pick just one? Probably The Hobbit, because of its unique point of view. Not many books can pull off a third person story told by a first person narrator with second person asides.

If you could only use 4 words to describe yourself, what would they be?

Married, Genial, Creative, Inquisitive

What is the best part of being my husband?

The best part is the fact that I don’t have to leave you at the end of the date anymore. When we were dating, I hated going home. Now your home is my home. As far as specifically be married to you though, I love that you are good at things like math and budgets, and that I know I can trust you will all areas of life.

Didn’t my wife ask a bunch of well-thought-out, wonderful questions? I’m starting to think that she should be the one with the blog.

Why I Sold Half my Facebook Friends to Mere Inklings in the Waiting Room – or – Links

This is Frigg, the reason Friday is called Friday, as in "I'm so friggin glad it's Friday!"

Friday is named for the Norse goddess, Frigg, wife of Odin, step-mother of Thor. Now you’ve learned something you can share with your friends tonight when you go see the  Avengers movie. Just point to Thor and say, “His step-mom is why today is called Friday.”

I like the format of listing interesting links on Fridays for two reasons. One, the internet is a vast and potentially frightening place and it helps to have a guide. Two, it doesn’t require as much time, so I have more time for working on my novel.

That said, here are four links that I think you should click:

Why I Sold Half of my Comic Book Collection by Andrew Rogers | First, the disclaimer, Andrew is in my writers’ group and he’s a good friend of mine. Second, the pitch, this is a good post the helps us evaluate whether we are hoarding things that would be better sold in order to gain things that would be better applied. Be sure to leave him a comment if you visit.

Mere Inkling | This is a site dedicated to the writers’ group, The Inklings, of which C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were members. The blogger, Rob Stroud, does a wonderful job in looking at life through the works of The Inklings. If you enjoy Narnia or Lord of the Rings, check out Rob’s blog.

The (Writer’s) Waiting Room | I stumbled across this blog this week and think it is a must-read for anyone with hopes of getting published. The blog is hosted by Hannah Karena Jones, an assistant editor at Transaction Publishers. She is insightful and encouraging as she guides would-be authors through the publishing process. I particularly enjoyed her post on query letters.

My Facebook Profile | Are we friends on Facebook? If not, we probably should be. Here are a couple reasons why you might want to befriend me: if you are a writer hoping to be published, publishers like to see a big friend list because it says that you aren’t afraid to self-promote and you have a built-in network of people who might buy your book; if you are not a writer, it is still good to have friends; I’m quite nice. All potential stalkers please ignore the above reasons and stop being so weird and stalker-y.

But Josh, how did you do with your writing goals this week?

How I did this week. Also, fun links!Good question, faceless stranger! I did pretty well. Twice in the last week, I set aside a few hours at a time to work on my novel. I feel like the story is coming along nicely (probably about 1/3 of the way there) and my characters even gave me a plot surprise that was pretty good. After posting this week’s book review, I wrote to the author of the book and she wrote back, which was a lovely surprise. And last, but certainly not least, I posted something every weekday, which is my goal. I’m going to give myself and A- for the week.

Thanks for reading this week. If you’ve made it this far into the post, you are probably either related to me or genuinely interested in my blog. Either way, your thoughts matter to me. I would appreciate any feedback or post ideas that you would care to share in the comments below!

Book Review | The Mistmantle Chronicles Book One: Urchin of the Riding Stars

You've found the short version of this review. "It's really good."After posting my last review, I asked my co-worker, Chris Jager, to look it over and give me her thoughts. Chris is the fiction buyer for the store and does tons of book reviews on her blog, so I value her opinion as I hone my craft. She read it and said, “It was a very clinical review. You didn’t say anything bad, but you stated facts without letting people hear your voice.”

So, my main goal for this review is to infuse a little more of myself into my impressions of the book. My secondary goal for this review is to point out the things that the writer did which worked well and are worth emulating. That way, we can all become better writers (by including some of the elements in our own stories) and better readers (by thinking critically about what and how we read).

My book this week is The Mistmantle Chronicles Book One: Urchin of the Riding Stars by M. I. McAllister.

Urchin the squirrel was born on a night of riding stars. It was the same night he arrived on the island of Mistmantle, and the same night that his mother died and was washed back out to sea. Discovered by Crispin the squirrel and Brother Fir, Urchin was sent home with kindly but simple Apple to be raised by the community in Anemone Wood. Once Urchin was old enough to enter the island’s work parties, he is asked to become Captain Crispin’s page, a dream come true. But his dreams turn to nightmares when the King’s only son is murdered and the blame falls on Crispin. Tragedy and adventure walk hand-in-hand with Urchin as he tries to protect his captain, himself, and his whole community from a creeping evil that has come into the kingdom.

I knew nothing about this book when I picked it up from the shelf, but it didn’t take long before I fell in love with it. There are five things that stood out to me about McAllister’s writing that puts it above most other children’s books.

The author isn’t afraid of a body count. The book opens with the death of the main character’s mother. In the first chapter, the animals are discussing the new and horrible practice of culling (killing off the weak and misformed) that is now practiced in the kingdom. By chapter three, the prince is dead. Death happens and I respect an author who isn’t afraid to show how it affects characters differently. Urchin’s mother was willing to die in order to rescue her unborn baby. The king is willing to kill because the of the grief of losing his son. Children are just as much affected by the death of loved ones as we are and McAllister gives us a reference to be able to talk to kids about how to feel and how to act.

The evil is EVIL. When bad things happen in the book, they are very bad. The bad characters are not just mean, but manipulative, sneaky, and murderous. The author helps us hate the evil that exists in the story, and gives us something to root against. Urchin has so much to overcome that when the evil is dealt with, we are not just pleased but elated.

The good is not without flaws. Urchin is likeable because he is flawed. He cares deeply about the people around him, but he cares just as much about what they think of him. I can relate to this because I know that I am a people pleaser. If put in a situation between doing what is right and doing whatever will make me liked, I have a dilemma. By giving Urchin a flaw, he is relateable. We root for him all the more because he is like us.

Suspense, foreshadowing, and misdirection are skillfully applied. By having a dire evil to overcome and showing that she isn’t afraid to kill off a character or two, McAllister creates real suspense for the story. And she weaves in enough details that when we finally figure out what is happening, we hit ourselves for not seeing it sooner. I love it when an author surprises me with a twist.

The tension escalates throughout. Like all good fiction, the main character finds himself in increasingly horrible predicaments. Just when you think, “well, at least it can’t get worse,” you find out that you are wrong.

Like I said, I loved this book. In fact, the whole series is great. I can’t wait until my kids are old enough for me to read it to them. I’d start now, but my oldest doesn’t have the attention span for chapter books yet and I’d end up just reading it out loud to myself. Then again, it was such a good story that I may just read it anyway. I can always read it again to them later.