Overcoming challenges to write

Today we have an interview with author Paul Maurice Martin, whose non-fiction book Original Faith: What Your Life Is Trying to Tell You came out last year.

Paul has a wonderful story about writing while overcoming illness.

Thanks for being on DayByDayWriter today, Paul, and congratulations on your book. Please tell us a little about Original Faith and how it came into being.

Martin

Martin

Thanks for having me, Samantha. Original Faith is a nonsectarian guide to spiritual growth. It speaks in terms of direct experience instead of doctrine about topics that include love, faith, work and getting beyond our egoism. The book offers readers insight as well as practical suggestions – I see the two as very much related. Original Faith is meant to enrich the faith of believers while highlighting the most energizing and creative features of inner life for nonbelievers.

The book started itself. When I was twenty-three, I had a spontaneous experience of the kind that people often seek through meditation. At that time, I’d never meditated or studied religion. I only knew that the experience was profoundly positive and a direct challenge to the despairing world view that I’d developed beginning in my teens. 

I started to see things differently, to experience life differently. I started jotting down ideas that were occurring to me just to help my own thought-process along. Several months later, I noticed it looked like my notes might be shaping up into a book manuscript.

By then, my life had been truly transformed. I’d gone from a mental state that I’m sure was clinically depressed to depression free – and the depression would never return. I was headed in a new direction that would soon take me to the University of Chicago Divinity School for a master’s degree and later a second master’s in counseling from the University of New Hampshire.

You had a break in writing due to illness. Was it difficult to starting writing again after so many years, and if so, what helped you finish?

Original Faith book coverIt was a long break all right. I had to stop writing for ten years because I was working full-time, my health was declining, and I was dealing with ongoing medical travel, research into rare diseases, and major health insurance struggles. 

Starting to write again was difficult only in the sense that I had to re-familiarize myself with my notes and files. But in another way, it was easy. I was at a point where my illness was progressing so fast that it was clear that if I didn’t organize and transfer my handwritten notes to the computer soon, then I was going to run out of time. I was rapidly losing the mobility and range of motion needed to work with paper files.

Do you have a routine that you use for your writing, and if so, could you tell us about it? 

Most of the creative work on Original Faith and most of my creative writing in other areas as well was done when I was still healthy. I used to get up in the early hours of the morning to write before heading for work. Late in the afternoon or early in the evening at the end of my workday just didn’t work out – it wasn’t a creative time for me.

When I’ve heard other writers interviewed, I seem to notice that more often than not they write in the morning. Ideally, I’d have written between maybe 8 AM and 11 AM or noon. But since I had to go to work, getting up at around 3 AM and writing until between 6 and 7 AM was second best.

Of course, the hard thing about 3 AM is getting up that early and having to go to bed early. But in writing terms, it worked well. Once I’d gotten up and had a couple cups of coffee, I could write effectively at that hour. The key for me was to write not long after waking up so as to have a fresh, uncluttered mind.

I read that you started your day with meditation sessions. Could you tell us about what you do to meditate? Do you think it helps you be creative?

I learned to meditate from the late Fr. Basil Pennington at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts. He taught a very simple form of meditation. It consists of repeating a word that you’ve chosen for this purpose – for example, “love,” “peace,” or “God” – and repeating it to yourself each time you exhale.

The purpose isn’t to think about the meaning of the word, but to make the word a continuing focus of attention to prevent your mind from engaging in its normally ceaseless background chatter. So even just a sound – like the famous “Om” – could work as well as a word. Every time your mind starts to wander, you return to the word or sound.

You might say that the purpose of meditation is to find out what your mind can do if you give it a break from not saying things to yourself. Giving your mind a break from mental chatter on a regular basis can do amazing things over time. These include gradually making you a calmer person in day to day life and deepening your personal relationship with God or life itself, according to how you think about these things – again, my focus is experience itself and not belief systems.

I’d be surprised if these effects didn’t indirectly enhance my creativity. For sure there were two key insights that I discuss in Original Faith that came to me as a direct outcome of reflecting on a particular kind of experience that I sometimes had while meditating.

Both of these insights concern love – a spiritual experience that crosses all sectarian divisions. Love is the subject of Original Faith’s first chapter and the foundation for everything that follows.

Thanks, Paul, and good luck with the book.

And for those reading this, reflecting on your story in the way we’ve talked about on this blog is a kind of meditation, I guess, but the deep kind of meditation that Paul talks about is something people study for years. If you want to try it, I suggest you study it carefully first.

If you have any questions for Paul, post them in comments. For more information about Original Faith: What Your Life Is Trying to Tell You, see Paul’s website and the book’s Amazon page.

Write On!

Author Interview: Ann Whitford Paul

I have a confession. I missed writing again yesterday. Doh! So no word count.

annwhitfordpaulBut, today, author Ann Whitford Paul is joining us on Day By Day Writer. Ann is an expert on writing picture books, and I’ve grilled her on the art of telling a complete story in 700 words of less. If you have another question for Ann, post it in the comments.

Ann, congratulations on your new book, Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide From Story Creation to Publication. I think the work it takes to write a great picture book is underestimated. I’ve tried writing some, and still haven’t succeeded. I’ll have to get your book! 🙂 How long did it take you to figure out the process of writing picture books, and how did you learn it?

writingpicturebooksI’m a slow learner. I was writing picture book stories for 5 years before I sold my first one. Why did it take so long? One reason was I was busy raising four children and it was difficult grabbing chunks of time to focus. But when I did have time, I always wrote and my bookshelves hold the evidence of the numerous books I read about craft. In addition I attended classes at UCLA Extension and looked forward every summer to the SCBWI National summer conference in Los Angeles. Another thing I did was study picture books. Besides reading many to my children, I also typed up their texts to have after I returned the books to the library. I even made dummies (pretend books of 32 pages with the text cut out and pasted where it went in the published book.) I still do that with favorite books. It helped me learn about pacing and page turns in picture books.

How important is character development and action in picture books? What are the most important elements?

Strong characters are incredibly important in picture books. Just think back to those picture books you loved from your childhood. My favorites,
which will date me, were Ferdinand and Peter Rabbit. My children loved Rotten Ralph and Curious George. Now my granddaughters love Fancy Nancy and Olivia. A strong, compelling and imperfect character gives child listeners someone to identify with and worry about and, most valuably, a friend to
come back and visit over and over again.

Action is also necessary because our books are illustrated and thoughts and dialog are difficult to illustrate. Also we want lots happening in our books to grab and keep the young children’s attention.

Which of your books was the easiest and which the hardest? Why?

The easiest book I ever wrote was EIGHT HANDS ROUND: A PATCHWORK ALPHABET because quilting and sewing patchwork is a hobby of mine. Also, from the time I was a child, I have been interested in history . . . not the dry dates of battles and treaties, but the everyday details of how people used to live. Patchwork patterns with their names inspired by the times they were stitched, such as Anvil, Buggy Wheel, Churn Dash spoke of earlier centuries. Even though I read over 60 books and spent six months researching, this was the easiest book I wrote, because it came out of my passions and I cared deeply about getting it right.

ifanimalskissedOne of the hardest books I wrote is IF ANIMALS KISSED GOOD NIGHT. This was inspired by a game I used to play with my third child, Alan. We live close to a zoo and often went there after afternoon naps. Then, that night, we would pretend we were animals and tried to kiss the way they might. For example, we held our arms like long trunks and kissed at the end of them like an Elephant might do. We squirmed on the ground and kissed like snakes. We kissed while hopping pretending to be kangaroos. But the writing was impossible. I wrote one version that echoed exactly what we had done–a mother and son playing the game together and sent it to several editors. It was always rejected. Finally one editor explained why. She thought it was a bit incestuous!! Wow! That thought had never occurred to me. So I had to go back to square one. I decided to forget about people in the book and just imagine how animals might kiss and not have any people in it. Interestingly, the illustrator, David Walker, put in a mother and her child at the beginning and end of the book so it would feel like a conversation between the two. Also this time, I wrote using rhythm and rhyme so that took more time.

What are some of you favorite picture books from other authors, ones that have inspired your work?

I absolutely adore this new rhymed picture book I CAN DO IT MYSELF by Diane Adams and illustrated by my friend Nancy Hayashi. THANK YOU, SARAH: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving by Laurie Halse Anderson is also a favorite. It’s amazing how lively she made a history book. Helen Ketteman in BUBBA THE COWBOY PRINCE and other retellings uses fabulous fun language. Check them out.

It seems that word counts are always changing. What’s the current trend?

I always get nervous when my picture book text hits 700 words. In WRITING PICTURE BOOKS I have a chapter about the different word counts in board
books, picture books and picture story books. The more a writer is familiar with children of all ages, the more he/she can predict their attention spans
and write accordingly.

Picture books seem to always be in demand. Can you tell us a bit about that segment of the publishing business right now?

Ouch! The publishing business is going through tumultuous growing, or perhaps changing is the more appropriate term, pains. Many wonderful editors have been laid off, and budgets are being cut back so publishing houses are more careful about what manuscripts they buy. That could be a good thing for the world if it means more quality books. On the other hand, it’s difficult for the creators, because the odds of selling a manuscript are decreasing. I certainly hope picture books and that wonderful sensual experience of shared reading and turning pages together will be around for a long time.

Thanks so much, Ann.

Don’t forget you can leave Ann a question in the comments.

Write On!

Author interview: Elizabeth Kirschner

Today we have a visit from Elizabeth Kirschner, who’s doing a blog tour about her book My Life as a Doll, a book of poems about how a mother’s violence affects her daughter. Here’s some more info about her:

Elizabeth KirschnerElizabeth Kirschner has published three collections of poetry, Twenty Colors, Postal Routes and Slow Risen Among the Smoke Trees  with Carnegie Mellon University, and most recently the fourth, My Life as a Doll, with Autumn House Press. She has also published a chapbook, The Red Dragon, and has a fifth book of poetry, Surrender to Light, due out from Cherry Grove Collections this August.

In addition, she has collaborated with many composers and has two CDs, both from Albany Records, that feature her work. In the first one, The Dichterliebe in Four Seasons, she set her own poetry, not a translation, to Robert Schumann’s gorgeous love sing cycle. In the latter, New Dawn, Carson Cooman has set to music eight of her poems. Elizabeth studies ballet and lives on the water at Sea Cabins Retreat in Kittery Point, ME.

cakeWelcome, Elizabeth, and first, Happy Birthday! It’s wonderful to have you with us on your special day. To celebrate, here’s a cake. You’ll have to imagine it tastes wonderful. 🙂

And congratulations on your new book, My Life as a Doll. Poetry is something I have never be any good at, but it’s so beautiful. Can you tell us a little about your process? When you’re writing a poem, which comes first, the premise or the words?

Much of my process flows out of my practice. I write every morning, seven days a week. Early on, I developed what Flannery O’Connor called the “habit of art.” Being present, attentive and tuned in brings the words in. I often move from the art of reading to the art of writing, as reading can serve as a catalyst for poems. I also take a long matins walk by the sea everyday and lines sometimes come to me, even whole poems. Like Mary Oliver, I carry a little notebook and pen on my excursions into the natural world to get things down before I lose them. So, yes, language comes first—a poetic phrasing or image that embodies a feeling—that is slowly shaped into the full realization of a poem. I don’t consciously think about premises: They announce themselves media res.

My Life as a Doll is about the effects a mother’s violence has on her daughter. Can you elaborate?

My Life as a Doll emerged, fiercely so, out of the retrieval of a catastrophic memory that had been buried in the underworld of my consciousness for decades. This memory spurred other demonic memories and is delineated in the title sequence:

 

                        After my mother hit the back

                                    of my head with the bat’s

                                                sweet spot, light cried

 

                        its way out of my body.

                                    I could not yet tie my own

                                                shoes. I could not yet pour

 

                        my own milk, but deeply

                                    down and down I went

                                                like a ball bouncing down

 

                        the cellar stairs. There

                                    I played with my dolls…

 

My Life as a Doll book coverCruelty tutored me, and out of that brutal schooling came the book, which is one long poem broken into four sections that define, refine the violence and its impact, which, for the speaker, is madness. In the end, My Life as a Doll stands as trophy, testament to the resilience of the human spirit, its triumphant rising out of the bleakest of depths.

Wow! What kinds of things inspire you in your writing?

The natural world has had a great influence on my writing. Much comes to me during my epic, Wordsworthian walks. The work of other poets, current and non, has been a constant deep, rich source of the inspiration in my aspiration to write poems. I keep what I call “Nickel Notebooks,” which are old composition books in which I record poems I love and words about the writing of poetry that resonate with me. I have well over a dozen Nickel Notebooks—it’s a great way to get inside other poet’s poems. I also dance and am a lyricist, and this engagement in other art form also molds the choreographing of the poem, particularly its music.

Have you ever wanted to write prose, or were you always drawn to poetry?

Poetry was and remains my primary passion, but I have segued into prose, particularly in my twenties when I entered what Erik Erickson terms “the moratorium,” which is “a time when the individual appears to be getting nowhere, accomplishing none of his {or her} aims.” Like Sylvia Plath, I made a bad calculation by spending nearly a decade trying to write short stories. It wasn’t until I, like Plath, according to Ted Hughes, accepted that my “painful subjectivity” was my real theme and that the plunge into myself was my only real direction, could I begin to come into my full promise as a poet, and the writing of My Life as a Doll really employed every ounce of my poetic powers.

I love that you have created a mentorship program for poets. Please tell us more about Wise Eye: Creating Poetry That Soars.

Mentoring, I think, goes deeper than what one can accomplish in the classroom. It allows me to help develop, in the fullness of time, first the gestation, then the fruition of the poetic sensibility. This is very complex, as it means delving deep into myself for that wise eye that has deepened my vision and envisioning of the art of poetry. I tend to the cultivation of other poet’s poems as seriously as I do  my own poems. It’s akin to breathing—I instruct others on how to inhale fledgling poems, exhale poems given wings with roots. A beautiful paradox, but one that speaks to the genesis of a poem. I have much to give, and by doing so, I pay homage to the gifts given to me.

And I’m sure those you mentor are grateful. Thanks very much for joining us, Elizabeth. And good luck with the book.

If you’ve got a question for Elizabeth, you can post it in the comments. You can also see more about Elizabeth and her work on her website.

Author interview: Elizabeth Fournier

Elizabeth Fournier

Elizabeth Fournier

Today we’re welcoming Elizabeth Fournier to Day By Day Writer. Elizabeth wrote her All Men Are Cremated Equal: My 77 Blind Dates balanced between a day job and new marriage and self-published it. She has quite a colorful working background, as she says on her website: “Elizabeth is currently the voice of the autopsy exhibit in the forensic wing at the United States National Museum of Medicine. You can also see her online as the Video Spokesperson for Chinook Winds Casino Resort. She and her dance partner, Scott, teach Ballroom Dance at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. Oh, and she’s also a full-time mortician.” Ha! And love the title of that book. Now we know where it comes from.

Writing a novel in between a full-time job, family and the other commitments in one’s life is, to say the least, challenging. (Not to mention tiring — I’m in the same boat.) How did you fit writing into your schedule?

When I wrote All Men Are Cremated Equal: My 77 Blind Dates, I was newly married. After planning a wedding across the country in only five months, I decided I could do anything. So I promptly sat down at the keyboard after our return from New Jersey and cranked out my manuscript.

The conflict between wanting to be with my new husband and wanting to write was tricky. It was a long, hot summer, and I had to miss out on some great fishing and hikes, but I managed to never miss a tasty barbecue! I was so lucky to have a supportively fabulous husband so I could take that time and do my work at home.

The editing portion of my manuscript took place at my funeral home. My parlour is located on acreage in the country in a remodeled goat barn. It is peaceful, and my mind feels untroubled there. I can stare out the window and see deer, green grass and lots of beautiful trees and plants. It’s Heavenly!

How long did it take to write and revise your memoir ready for publication?

All Men Are Cremated Equal: My 77 Blind Dates

I finished my first draft in a month. Seriously, I did. The book started from a series of e-mails I sent to my beloved father. I would tell him about a date and then e-mail him the not so great events of the date when arriving home. He loved being a part of my quest to find true love as much as I loved having him along for the self-deprecating ride.

The first draft was 77 chapters, one chapter for the 77 individual dates. I thought it was fresh and brilliant! None of the literary agents I sent it to could see that point of view. I quickly decided that a redo was inevitable.

With enthusiasm quashed, I got back to the keyboard and enlisted help from a wonderful storyboard editor down Hollywood way named Michele Gendelman. She had worked (among many things) on a few episodes for The Facts of Life. The show’s glamour character, Blair Warner, was the end-all for me in my youth, so I knew I was in capable hands.

Michelle encouraged me to break up the manuscript into larger chapters, add dialogue and most of all, have fun. Sound advice, and even though she knew dialogue doesn’t easily appear out of the sky, I opened my heart, and it all poured out with ease.

As I had revisions revised and revisited, it all tightened up into a nice story. The original manuscript was twice as long. While preparing the final version, I was most concerned with being extremely honest without violating the privacy of my wonderful friends — and blind dates!

Did you always plan to self-publish or did you go the traditional route first? And how did you decide to self-publish?

After I had a pretty decent version, I obtained an agent rather quickly. I got the phone call while pregnant and drying my clothes at the Laundromat. I could hardly hear her over the whizzing noise of the vast dryers, so I had to move the conversation to the funeral van waiting in the parking lot. My husband found me collapsed in the back on the gurney after my exhaustive, joyful shrieking.

That joy turned to immediate frustration when my newly acquired agent’s e-mail updates would list proposals sent out to various editors, only to find curtly generic “thanks, but no thanks” notes received back. I thought that publishers would read the synopsis and opening chapters to see if I had a feel for language and an aptitude for telling my story. To that extent, I did accomplish something. Although every submission came back with a rejection, it was clear they had enjoyed reading the material. That was the upside.

The downside was that they also said they rarely, if ever, accepted non-fiction manuscripts from some random writer without a platform. After all, I am just a girl from Boring, Oregon, who went on 77 blind dates and just happens to own a keyboard.

What were the biggest hurdles you had to overcome in self-publishing?

When my book was released, I was psyched and knew it was a must-have for all bookstores, everywhere.  Ha! I called the corporate offices of Barnes and Noble and learned that even though my book is on their computers, they rarely ever stock self-published books.

I’ve also learned that without bookstores, a book isn’t likely to do well, even with lots of publicity. A huge percentage of people do not buy books online. I am available through Amazon and I am distributed through Ingram, so I am essentially available at any bookstore or website, but I really had my heart set on waltzing into a Borders one day and seeing a huge cardboard cut-out of my lovely cover.

This all does not mean bookstores will stock my book. There are so many hurdles in doing it yourself, including getting book reviews and noticed by the book industry papers, such as Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, ForeWord and Booklist. I haven’t overcome all the hurdles yet.

How are you promoting the book?

Work, work, work! It is a job which never sleeps. Thank God for the Internet and e-mail. I can solicit, query, chat, blog, post, research, etc. 24 hours a day. I solicit websites, send out queries to radio stations, I chat with other authors of my genre, I blog on a few sites, I post connect with others, and I research more ways to promote myself. I put myself out there, and it has paid off.

I have hit up trade publications, anything about dating, blind dating, local and community papers, have done readings at local places, am for sale at random local places and pretty much hand out my book cover magnets to all I speak with.

I have a wonderful publicist (Abby Kraus PR) who finds interesting and valuable leads. She’s great! I definitely recommend hiring a publicist — they just have many, many more contacts than an average author can find scouring the Internet.

What advice would you give to other writers considering self-publishing?

I’d read somewhere about advertising that it takes seven times for a person to see a new product before it registers. Thus, how do you show your book to people seven times? Get the word out there. Solicit, query, chat, blog, post, research!

A talent you need as a writer is the ability to write a good short query via email. You need to understand how to get the attention of harried editors, agents, reviewers, and more people.

One trick about press releases, by the way, is to come up with a headline that does NOT mention the title of your book or your name. After all, if people see either, will they be compelled to read your release? Probably not. This forces you to find the news for your headline.

Writing a good book, compared to a bad one, involves one thing — work. And a great, quality book cover is critical.

Great advice!

Check out Elizabeth’s website, and if you don’t see her book in your local Barnes & Noble, ask them why.

And follow Elizabeth on the rest of her blog tour:

May 18: TV Boyfriends

May 21: Annette Fix’s blog

May 22: Kristin Bair O’Keefe

May 26: Wedding Skulls

June 2: Nice Shoes! and Other Life Observations

June 5: Fatal Foodies

June 8: Sybil Baker’s blog

June 11: Misadventures With Andi

June 15: Modern Single Momma

Write On!

Author Interview: Rachel Dillon

Today on Day By Day Writer, we welcome debut author Rachel Dillon, a fellow member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators. Rachel is currently doing a blog tour talking about her book Through Endangered Eyes: A Poetic Journey Into the Wild, published by Windward Books.

Rachel Dillon

Rachel Dillon

Here’s her bio:

Rachel Dillon was born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin. She attended the University of Wisconsin, Madison and graduated in 1994 with a Bachelor of Science in Art, emphasizing in Graphic Design. Outside of art, Dillon held a special interest in evolution and extinction and took several classes in paleontology, and geology. Her passion for animals grew as she learned more about endangered species.

Her book is beautiful, so check it out. Now onto the interview:

Rachel, I read that you were in marketing. Did you always want to be a children’s book writer/illustrator, or is it something you stumbled on?

Stumbling is a great analogy. I hadn’t ever thought about writing a children’s book and most certainly not doing illustrations. It all just seemed to fall in place. My book combines all the things I love: children, animals, painting and writing. I went to UW-Madison, for art and graphic design. I was in marketing for many years after college.  I think my goal now is to say, when someone asks what I do for a living, “I am an author and artist.”

Poetry is an amazing form of writing — one I’m terrible at, so I’m in awe of those who can write it. Did you study poetry before you wrote the poems for this book or is poetry something that comes easy to you?

I really haven’t had formal training in writing and poetry, other than college classes in English Literature. I know when I was growing up, I would express myself with poems and lyrics. As a mom, I love books with clever rhymes. I can’t stand rhymes that don’t quite sound right. There is a rhythm, a cadence, and a rhyming poem flows or it doesn’t. I wrote what sounded right to me.

book_cover_tee-squareYour book is about endangered animals. What is it about endangered animals that inspires you?

My sadness inspires me. My heart aches when I hear stories about animals and what has happened to make them endangered. There is something so innocent about animals. They are driven to survive. I also believe that everything has a purpose on Earth. Each species is unique and interesting, and when you eliminate one species, others will be affected. I know that extinction is part of nature, but I have read the rate of extinction is occuring at an unnatural rate.

Your painting style was inspired during a trip to Australia. Could you tell us more about that?

When I was 19, I took my third trip to Eastern Australia. My aunt and uncle live in a town called Ulladula, the sweetest place on the coast. We travelled south to Canberra, where I was inspired by all the Aboriginal Acrylic Dot Paintings. They were in galleries; on the sides of buses; in museums; and even on sidewalks. I loved the colors, patterns and textures. I learned more about the dot painting technique in books, although resources were slim in the U.S. I decided to try out the technique on some of my own art projects and loved it. Painting in dots is soothing and meditative and after 16 years, my technique is still evolving.

How did you go about designing the book? Were there specific things you wanted to achieve?

I wanted to create something unique, that children had never seen before. I wrote the text first and painted the animals second, so they were consistant with the poems. It is important to me that the children understand the issues that endangered animals face, as well as how each species is unique and has a job to do on the planet. The facts help to break down the poem for the child or reader, so it can make a real impact. I wanted to create something beautiful that people would want to take with them as they grew up.

I read that many of your poems were written on scraps of paper at a stoplight while you were taking your daughter to daycare. As a writer or illustrator with a day-job, it can sometimes be difficult to fit in your passion, and even more difficult to keep it going long enough to finish the work and see it through to publication. What kept you going? And in what ways did you make the time to finish Through Endangered Eyes?

I am a Taurus. 😉 I am stubborn, and when I get an idea in my head, I do my best to see it through. I also had a lot of people that believed I could do it, and a lot who didn’t think I could — which motivated me more. Most of all, I believed that what I was creating was important for kids to read. I want to make a difference for animals, and this was one way I thought I could help.

Creating the book was my creative escape. It was time for me. I fit writing and painting in any time and place that I can. It is so easy to for me to pay attention to the needs of others and forget myself. My book and the commitment to my publisher was the motivation I needed to complete the project.

Talking about publishers, please tell us about your journey to publication after your book was finished.

It took a LONG time to get published. I started writing the book “Through Endangered Eyes” in 2002.

I submitted to 3 publishers in 2003. With 2 illustrations and all of my text for nine species + human.

My first publisher, Stemmer House, sent me a contract in 2004. After I thought I completed the book, they asked me in 2005 to take the book from 9 species, to twenty. Many drafts later, I thought I completed the book again in 2006.

My first editor, Craig Thorn sadly passed away in 2006. 😦 I was released from my contract from Stemmer House in February 2007. After which, I submitted to 14 publishers. I lost count of rejections.

In February 2008, I got a call from Windward Publishing, and they wanted my book! I signed the contract with them that month. A new draft, with their suggested changes was sent to them in April 2008. After three more drafts, my book was completed in December of 2008 and published in January 2009.

What a rollar coaster ride, especially when I have a hard time being patient.

Wow! That must have been emotional. I understand you’re working on a second book, again about the wild kingdom. Please tell us about it.

My second book has a working title of “Through Desert Eyes.” I have chosen 21 desert species that are endangered from all over the world. I will include a couple of pages about desert ecosystems and how species are adapted to a dry environment. I want to talk to more specialists for this book and not rely as much on the internet research. I am very exciting about the paintings too. I have matured as an artist through this publishing process.

Could you tell us a bit about the types of things you’re doing to market Through Endangered Eyes?

At each reading I give away bookmarks, so if the kids are interested in the book, my Web address is on it, so their parents have a place to buy the book. For the teachers or event coordinators, I give out a notecard and a magnet with an image from the book on it. I have my blog, my Web site, business cards, a facebook page, and I always carry a box of my books in my car, ready to sell! I am building a mailing list from the checks I receive, so I can mail out postcards if I have a new painting out, or have an event coming up. I also have a large email list that I use to promote things. I send out a press release to the local papers and add to their online calendar, if I have an event coming up. For events that are unique, I will contact the local TV stations and see if I can do a morning show visit. I would love to be a part of a local NPR giveaway, during their fundraising event. So many options.

In the future, I want to add video of me reading my book, and audio of me reading the book; keep posting images from the classrooms I visit, and events I do. I want my blog and site to remain interesting so that people return for more information.

My favorite thing to do as a marketer is to do readings and visit schools. The comments and enthusiasm, makes the book all worth while!

What advice do you have for first-time writers and illustrators pursuing their dream?

1. Be patient.

2. Research. You’ll cut your rejections if you find out what the publisher wants.

3. Stay positive during editing. I have probably gone through hundreds of manuscript changes, not to mention changes to my illustrations before my final book was completed.

4. Lastly, believe in your work. If you believe what you have created is amazing, someone else will agree.

Thanks so much for joining us today, Rachel. Good luck with Through Endangered Eyes, and we look forward to seeing Through Desert Eyes on shelves soon. You can read more about Rachel on her website, RachelDillon.com, and her blog.

Write On!

Author Interview: George Singleton

Author George Singleton has stopped by today as part of a blog tour promoting his new book Pep Talks, Warnings & Screeds: Wisdom and Advice for Writers, published by Writer’s Digest Books. George has published short stories in a massive amount of magazines (the list is so long, I’ll let you check them out for yourself on his website) as well as four story collections and two novels.

Originally from California, George grew up in Greenwood, South Carolina, and has been a visiting professor at the University of South Carolina and UNC-Wilmington.

His latest book, a collection of tidbits about the craft of writing and life of a writer, offers lots of words from the wise, such as: “Do not allow another obsession–golf, basket weaving, nursing orphaned monkeys back to health–to overshadow your writing until you’ve published three or four books. I’ve noticed that people who say, ‘I’m a writer, actor, painter, dog groomer, teacher, oboist and dirt bike racer,’ are not very good at any of those professions or avocations.”

Welcome to Day By Day Writer, George. Could you give us some background on how this book came about?

I’d blurted out some kind of non sequitur to a student, and she said, “You need to write down those things you keep telling us.”  So I sat down over a week and wrote down every little aphorism I could think of.  It ended up being three single-spaced pages.  I thought, Is this all I’ve learned over all these years of teaching?  And then I got flooded with anecdotes, extended metaphors, and the like.

You’ve published two novels and lots of short stories. Do you have a preference between the two?

I wish that it were easier to get publishing houses to publish collections of stories.  I like to write stories, but I think it might be a good idea these days to write stories that are linked by a single character, or characters that live in the same town, and so on. 

When you get an idea, do you immediately know whether it’ll be a novel or a short story, or does the action dictate that as you go along?

Both Novel and Work Shirts for Madmen were stories that kept going.  I’m hard-headed, so in both cases, at about page 50, I said to myself, “Uh-oh.”

Are there any differences between a novel and a short story in preparation or writing?

Probably, but I wouldn’t be the person to ask.  I’m sure it’s different for everyone.  If a novel is set in the past, certainly one would need to take a lot of time doing research.  I despise doing research.  I learned that I hated doing research in about the eleventh grade, to which my English teacher can attest.  The easy way to get out of this problem, of course, is to set everything Now.  And to be honest, if I knew ahead of time that I would be writing a novel instead of a story, I probably would never get started, knowing what a grind stands before me.

In Pep Talks, Warnings & Screeds, you give aspiring writers lots of advice, and plenty of warnings. For you, what is the most difficult aspect of writing, and what keeps you coming back?

I don’t really mind getting rejections, but I guess it can wear on a person.  I went eighteen months without an acceptance back in the mid-1990s, and that about did me in.  I mean, I wrote daily, and nothing was working out.  What keeps me coming back, though, is the notion that maybe I can write a better story—maybe, through luck and patience, I can one day write “Good Country People,” or “The Enormous Radio,” or “Cathedral,” or “A&P,” and so on.  It’s addictive as all get-out, you know.  It’s like finding a doubloon with a metal detector, and then hoping and needing to find two doubloons the next time out.

Thanks, George. And good luck with the book.