Wednesday, January 25, 2012

It's Editing Time

Some of you may already know that my first novel, Michaela's Gift, will be published as an ebook by Musa Publishing. It's scheduled to come out in June of this year.

The day I signed my contract with Musa was exciting. It was also frightening. I had made a commitment, one completely unfamiliar to me, and one I didn't want to consider retracting. But, although I had spent many hours reading about the publishing industry, it was still uncharted territory. Questions of self-doubt filled my waking hours and disturbed my sleep. What if I couldn't produce what they wanted? What if no one wanted to read my book? For several years I had dreamed of an offer, and now that I had one, it terrified me.

But then I got an email introducing me to my editor. For some reason, the fear and doubt vanished. I realized that someone will be with me throughout the next few months of preparing my manuscript for publication. And then, as often happens, the fear and doubt returned.

I had a reminder that my manuscript had never been uploaded to the publisher's website. I needed to remedy that immediately. Oh, sure, no problem.

Actually, major problem. Or so I thought. I read through the formatting style guidelines, and felt like I was trying to decipher a foreign language. Nothing made any sense to me, except for the fact that I was clueless, once again.

So I called someone very close to me. Someone who had recently been through the same process, and is brilliant. His name is Cornell Deville, or Michael Broadway. His YA novel, Lost In The Bayou, came out with Musa a short time back, and his next YA novel, Cannibal Island, is due out with Musa in the near future.

Besides weaving magic with words, Michael is a genius when it comes to technology. As he patiently walked me through the steps I needed to submit my manuscript for editing, he taught me things about my computer I'd never discovered! I found drop-down menus that had remained hidden from me all these years. I learned quick tricks to make tedious and time-consuming changes speedy and painless.

I guess the point to all of this is to not fall into a panic when matters appear to be impossible. Reach out to others, and you'll more than likely find someone with the knowledge you seek, and the attitude you need to help you reach your goals. Of course, you have to put in the hard work and effort it takes to get you to the starting point, but you've probably already figured that out for yourself by now.

This was just a short side trip, and an opportunity to share my wonderful news with you. I'll be back in the next few days with another author interview.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Author Interview with R. M. Clark

Dizzie cover art
I’m very excited to announce our blog’s first author interview. This was a big decision on my part, mainly because it’s new territory for me, and because I want to avoid making mistakes that will turn people away. But I want to highlight other writers on their journeys toward getting their work out to the public. So, with great pleasure, allow me to introduce R. M. Clark, author of the upcoming novel, Dizzy Miss Lizzie.

Thanks, Cordelia. R. M. Clark is my author name because all the other variations were taken. My real name is Robert, but most people call me Bob. I'm sure you know what it's like to have several names.
I’m beginning to discover the difficulties of the numerous names game, Robert. I understand that Dizzy Miss Lizzie is not the first book you’ve written, but it’s the first one I’ve had the pleasure of reading. You did a great job of portraying the voices and behaviors of two 13-year-old girls. Is there a logical explanation for this, or are you just really good at what you do?

Lizzie is my debut novel, but the third of seven I have written. I have no daughters or younger sisters, so I couldn't rely on much personal experience when it comes to the thoughts and actions of young girls. The voices came through casual real-life observation along with what I've encountered on TV, in movies and other books. I unleashed my inner teen!

Ah, so you’re still a kid at heart. That’s a great asset for a writer of kid’s books. You did a very good job of showing your readers the area where Lizzie takes place, even though I am unfamiliar with the northern East coast of the United States. How much of this is from personal experience, and how much is a result of research?

I've lived in southeastern Massachusetts for over twenty years, so describing the present day area was easy. I had to research Fall River circa 1890s to get the details about the real Slade's Ferry Bridge (trains on top, all others below). I needed a large clock so I included Notre Dame Church, which actually wasn't built until a few years later. Yes, I took a little artistic license.

Well, Robert, that’s what writing is all about, isn’t it? Taking what we know and adding our own imaginative workings into the mix. You did a great job with the details, although the bridge sounded a bit frightening to me when I read that section of the book. So let’s get back to the book itself a little bit. Would you like to give the audience a quick overview of your novel, or would you prefer to keep it a mystery?

Thirteen-year-old Kasey Madrid finally has the freedom she's always wanted. Instead of putting up with sitters or camps, she can spend the summer home alone in their "new" house. Never mind that the house is a creepy old place built in the nineteenth century. The creep factor skyrockets when Kasey meets a nineteenth-century girl named Lizzie Bellows in the basement. It takes some time for Lizzie to convince Kasey she's not a ghost, though neither girl understands why they can see each other when they live 120 years apart. The difference in their worlds doesn't stop the two from becoming fast friends. Lizzie's life isn't easy, though. In her time, her parents died in a fire many believe Lizzie started herself. As the summer passes and Kasey learns more about her own past, she is shocked to discover Lizzie is part of a terrible Madrid family secret. It's up to Kasey to go back to Lizzie's world to unlock the secret and clear Lizzie's name.

I love the mystery aspects of the story, and the inventive way you made the whole time connection believable. You describe the work as a paranormal mystery, which it definitely is, but there are other elements that need to be mentioned. The Portuguese aspect, which I thoroughly enjoyed, gave it a multicultural twist. Again, I am curious to know, were you able to make this so real from your own personal experience, or are you simply quite thorough with your background research?

I'm not Portuguese, but the region has a large Portuguese population, and most came from the Azores like the characters in the book. The food, clothing and names all came from research. One of the characters goes by Avo (pronounced uh-VOH), which is a Portuguese word for Grandmother. I ran my findings by some Portuguese-American friends who gave me the "chorizo" of approval.

Oops! I never got the pronunciation right as I read it. I always read ‘Avo’ with a long A sound. My bad. In addition to the cultural tidbits, you’ve given us an amazing view into the historical details of Victorian New England. I was surprised at the vivid descriptions you managed to provide into vintage costumes and furnishings. Care to elaborate on that?

Sure. It involved many hours of internet research on Victorian-era life. Good thing no one was looking at my computer screen to see me scrolling though pictures of Victorian underwear (Hey! I needed it for the story). Hoop skirts. Bathing "costumes." Speech patterns. Even hair styles. All researched for the sake of accuracy.

I’m glad you put in all that research. I loved the descriptions, especially the difficulties Kasey had with the corset. But the book has a lot more to it than fashion. I have to admit, when I read the portion of the story where Lizzie Borden’s name first came up, I began to fear we would have a bloodbath by the end. I don’t want to drop too many spoilers, and I understand how she’s connected with all of it, but did you worry that it might turn readers away? Or do you think she adds a dimension to the book that will help draw a larger audience? I’m not being critical, mind you, because I think she definitely adds to the story in both logical and historical value.

Good thing you didn't read the original draft! In it, Kasey, the main character, befriends a young Lizzie Borden and even goes back to Fall River on the day of the murders. What fun reading for the kids!  A few readers pointed out the darkness of the draft, so I lightened the tone considerably and changed her to fictional Lizzie Bellows, whose own family tragedy coincided with Lizzie Borden's. Lizzie Borden is relegated to a very important cameo. No bloodbaths, of course.  Just good, clean fun!
So when does Dizzy Miss Lizzie make her debut, and where can we find her?

Dizzy Miss Lizzie will launch on January 27. You can pre-order it from Stanley Publishing at Coming soon to, and the usual internet sites in hardcopy and e-book as well as bookstores everywhere.

Thank you so much, Robert, for your time, and for allowing us this sneak preview into the lives of these interesting characters. I appreciate your willingness to share with us today and for giving me this opportunity to conduct my first author interview. Hopefully it will lead to more, and hopefully it will help the audience to find out for themselves why I found this an interesting read.

Thanks for having me. It was fun.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Stone Soup

Do you remember the story of Stone Soup? A group of weary travelers, with nothing but a large cooking pot, arrive at a village. They are hungry and tired, but the villagers are reluctant to share a meal with the strangers. The travelers rely on their own inventiveness and soon fill their bellies with a delicious soup that the villagers have unwittingly provided.
Writing reminds me of this story. Sometimes I find myself carrying around a big empty pot where ideas should be stewing. Or perhaps I have the beginning of an idea, but it needs additional seasoning before it becomes savory. That’s when I surround myself with children, and tune in to their creativity.
Kids are great inspiration for writers. If they are young enough, their inhibitions are few, and they will rant freely about everything that interests them, or about what Uncle Arthur did that made Mom decide he can’t come to any more family Christmas parties. Older kids are great sources of what’s interesting or what’s new – it seems as though their imaginations are limitless. And if you tell them upfront, which you should do, that you’re looking for ideas for your latest WIP, they’re usually more than willing to share their wealth of information with you. They’ll also become your fans. Kids are much more observant of human behavior than many people give them credit for. That’s probably one of the reasons they have so much to offer.
But I’m certainly not advocating the exploitation of children. Not by any means. The travelers in the Stone Soup story did no harm to the villagers while gaining their cooperation. Rather, they engaged with them and piqued their natural curiosity. That’s what we need to do with kids, but we have to be genuine in our interest, for kids are often much more discerning than adults, and can spot a fake in less time than it takes to say, “Pass the salt, please.”

Friday, January 13, 2012

Rhythm and Writing


              The Muppets have always been some of my favorite characters. Such a zest for life!
Do you think about rhythm as you write? If not, then you should begin to do so now. It doesn’t matter whether you write rhyming picture books or thrillers; you need to understand the importance of rhythm.
                I love Laura Numeroff’s Mouse Cookies series. If you aren’t familiar with them, the list includes If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, If You Give a Pig a Pancake, and If You Give a Moose a Muffin. They aren’t rhyming books, but as the titles suggest, they have a definite rhythm. Notice that there isn’t a title such as If You Give an Elephant an Egg. The concept is appealing and lucrative, as Dr. Seuss proved with Horton, but such a title falls flat, at least for me.
                Some people may think that rhythm only applies to music. But rhythm is something we are learning before birth. As soon as an unborn baby develops his ability to hear, he learns rhythm. His mother’s heartbeat and respirations are rhythmic – hopefully – and are a constant accompaniment to his life before birth. And how many of us can resist patting a baby, long after he has fallen asleep in our arms, to a steady, rhythmic beat? We live with rhythm from the very beginning.
                Soon the patting and rocking is accompanied by nursery rhymes. Whether sung or spoken, they have a natural rhythm that stimulates the brain differently than that of regular speech, or reading from a textbook. Why do you think we sing our ABC’s in preschool or kindergarten? The rhythm helps us to retain what we hear or read. Have you ever thought about all the words to all the songs you have learned throughout your life? There must be billions! Poems affect us that way, too, because of the rhythm. I can remember words to poems and songs I haven’t heard since I was three years old, but I can’t recite one line from the textbooks I thought I had memorized in college in order to pass finals.
                So how do we learn to write rhythmically? Lots and lots of practice. Lots and lots of reading. It helps, too, if you read aloud. If you stumble over a sentence, or have to go back and read it a second time, then you know that your rhythm is off. Stimulate your brain’s creative right side by reading poems and rhyming picture books. Maybe listen to music while you write. Try different approaches until you find the one that works for you. You want your words to be memorable, so it’s up to you to do everything you can to achieve that. Even if you can’t dance, you can learn to hear the music.
                Now tell me what you do that helps strengthen the rhythm in your own writing. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, and I need all the help I can get.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Word of the Week

                I don’t know that this will be a constant, but I thought it might be fun to try out some unusual, possibly obscure words here on the blog. After all, I profess to be a writer, and writers need lots of words.
                Today’s word is larapin. Now, my dictionary for Word doesn’t even recognize this word. It tells me it should be larruping. But then when I type in larruping, it has no suggestions for synonyms. If you Google the word, you will get several different spellings, also.
                But the meaning of the word is clear – at least, clear to interpretation. The best definition I can come up with is that larapin is an adjective for something that is indescribably delicious. Such as chicken and dumplings, or blackberry cobbler, or my personal favorite, fried chicken for breakfast!
                The only person I ever heard actually use the word larapin was my mother. She used it quite often, because she loved good, home-style country cooking. I thought she had invented the word, as she was prone to do things like that just for entertainment purposes. I was slack-jaw shocked, therefore, when I read the word in a novel a few short years ago. In fact, I called my sister and told her I had to read a passage of the book to her, because she wasn’t going to believe what I had read. Her shock was equal to my own, and we talked for over an hour reminiscing about the good old, larapin days of our childhood.
                Do you have any peculiar words in your vocabulary files? Please feel free to share them here. And I’m challenging each of you to use the word larapin at least once in the near future. It should be a great conversation starter, unless you’re from the deep south and use it on a regular basis.

Friday, January 6, 2012

This video cracks me up. If you watch and listen closely, you'll observe that Elvis thought it was a hoot, also. I don't know if the dog enjoyed making this appearance, but it certainly tickled the King.

Sunday will be the anniversary of  Elvis Presley's birthday. I plan to bake a cake, and will eat a  healthy portion of it in memory. Ah, shucks, I'll most likely eat an unhealthy portion, but his birthday only comes once a year, after all.

I always thought Elvis to be a rather unusual name. I have personally known one person by the name of Elvis. My oldest daughter dated an Elvis during her high-school years. He was a very attractive, dark-haired boy, tall and slender, with an engaging smile. His mother named him well.

But other than that Elvis, I've never run across any other people with that particular name. What I have discovered, however, is that there are a lot of dogs named Elvis. There are 492 dogs named Elvis on a site called Dogster. That's a lot of Elvis. Nick Jonus named his dog Elvis. I don't know the breed of that particular dog, but I'm sure he's a "hound dog".

Elvis loved dogs, and owned quite a few of them. The names he chose for his dogs make me laugh. He had a Honey, and a Sweet Pea, a Teddy Bear (hmm, wonder where that one came from) and a Muffin, which I understand had a disciplinary problem. At least one of his dogs starred in a movie with Elvis. Do you know which one it was?

I also discovered in my research that at least one book has been written featuring a dog named Elvis. Does it never end? Georgette Livingston is the author, and the book is titled The Dog Named Elvis Caper. It's a mystery, and the Elvis in the story is a St. Bernard.

My upcoming MG novel, Michaela's Gift, includes a dog, but she isn't a  St. Bernard, and her name certainly isn't Elvis, but she is very special. You'll have to wait a while to meet her, but in the meantime you should watch the video and celebrate the King's birthday. Oh, and while you're at it, drop by the blog of a special person named Cornell Deville. You'll find him at Today is his birthday, and he'll be surprised if you tell him I sent you over there.

Happy Reading!

Monday, January 2, 2012


            A few short years ago, I didn’t even know what character-driven meant. I had never analyzed what drew me to some novels and turned me away from others. If a story was well told, and the plot not too convoluted for my feeble mind, I usually read it through to the end.
            But as I study and learn the trade of writing, I find myself critiquing my reading list on a regular basis. Surprisingly, it doesn’t take any of the joy out of the reading, but it has made me more selective. I have even (gasp!) stepped away from a book or two and left them unfinished; something I never did before.
            I find now that my personal preference is often the character-driven novel. Whether it’s a tender love story, a tale of espionage, or a picture book, I like strong characters that pop out and carry the scenes.
            I’m not talking about characters that are described in minute detail – down to the color of their nail polish or the style of their shoes. Those are great details, but I want to believe in the character, and feel that he/she is someone I could meet at the market or at the park. If you, as the writer, can create characters that are real to me and will stand out in a crowd – whether it be a crazy uncle bent on killing his niece in an attempt to gain control of the family fortune, or a walking disaster in the form of a mop-headed, mischievous little girl, then I’m hooked. Those stories could be told by a variety of people in an endless array of styles. But to keep me reading, I have to believe these characters are real. Shoot, even a lovable, silly old bear will keep me reading if he has enough personality!
            Thanks for stopping by and reading. I’d love to know your thoughts. Do you prefer plot-driven or character-driven stories?