Tuesday, 15 July 2014

How to be an award winning Children's Author? We ask Meaghan Fisher

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Since we spoke to Meaghan she has been notified of her nomination in the National Readers Awards 2014. Mousekabitz and Tyler The Fish Saves Lake Erie have received nominations within the Children's Animal and Children's Pop-Up Book Categories. We congratulate Meaghan and wish her every success with her nomination hopes.

We love chatting to authors. You'd expect us to say that considering we are so passionate about reading. But there is something truly magical that happens when you catch the heart and soul behind what you read. When you speak to an author you get to appreciate the blood, sweat and tears that has gone into their writing. The countless hours, late at night, toiling over the chapters, refining, rewriting and coffee oh so much coffee. Often I will go back and re read a book after an interview and appreciate even more the skill behind the pen.

Meaghan Fisher is an accomplished writer of children books. Anyone that is under the illusion that writing for children is easy is just plain wrong. Actually, I think it's harder, have you ever tried to speak to child? To get a point across? To do so is very hard and to win their trust and engage their wonderful, limitless imaginations, not yet spoilt or blunted by the world is a breath taking experience. Having earned acclaim from readers around the world as well as the 2013 Best Picture Book of the Year award for Mousekabitz, Meaghan is deservedly highly regarded. We are delighted she agreed to chat with us and urge you from the outset to check her work out.

- Hi Meaghan, thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk to us. Can I start by saying how well written and well illustrated your books are. Is that important to you? That the quality of the writing is matched by the illustrations? 

Hi, Thank you so much for having me on your blog today, I am so excited to be a guest. 
Yes, the illustrations are really important to me and something that means a lot to me because the person buying the book sees the art work first. So it’s the first impression of the book that the person gets. Therefore, the art has to be fantastic to get them to want to pick up the book and read what’s inside. So yes, the quality of the book is very important to me, it must be the best, in terms of illustrations and writing. I am a huge perfectionist. I work with the illustrator for months to make sure all my books are perfect.

- Can you share with us a little of the personal journey that led you to writing children's books?

When I was a child, I began writing poetry as an outlet when I was in sixth grade. During that summer, entering seventh grade (Jr. High), I wrote my first novel about a murder mystery, and I kept a journal as well. I was always writing or had my nose in book. I loved reading and writing however when I entered college, I took many English Courses and Poetry Courses and began getting my poetry published. I never thought much of it but then I finished college and was going into Grad School when I wrote my first children’s book. 
I was attending a writers group of women who wrote articles and novels. Nothing to do with children’s stories of course, I was the only one who wrote poetry and Children’s books but I believe I write for children so well because I practically raised my little brother, Alex when I was growing up. I also was a Nanny for a family next door, after school in high school.  I put myself through college by Nanning for a few families. So I all I knew was children. It was my life and background. I love kids, so why not write for them.
 What inspired you to take this momentous leap?
What really inspired me to take this leap and get my children’s books published, was my sixth grade English Teacher, Linda Gallagher. She always encouraged me as a child to keep writing. She said I had a true talent and one day I would be published. It was a fate that one day we met up again when I was taking a walk. It turned out that she lived nearby. Linda had asked me what I was up to and I said, I had done a silly thing and wrote a children’s book. She insisted on looking at it and once she did, she told me it was so good, it had to be published. 
My husband, also a big critic, had said that to me after reading my first children’s book I wrote. Since these two people where the most honest people I knew in my life, I knew it had to be true and that day, my whole life changed. I was a writer! At that moment I know that life would never be the same. 
However, the most important thing to me is the moral lessons that I write about in my books! In each book I have three subjects I write about and teach to children, but in a day and age where technology has taken over a lot and parents are so busy that they don’t take the time to teach their children moral lessons anymore, I hope to inspire parents through my books to want to read to their child every night and teach their children to be better people and that too has made me take the leap and get published.

- You have a supportive husband who you have often talked to me about as being really involved in your projects. Can you tell us more about his role? 

My husband’s name is Tim Rowe and he is very important because without him, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do. He is a big believer in my mission to inspire children and get my moral lessons out there. He is EXTREMELY SUPPORTIVE. He is my book designer, my website designer, he works with my artist for my books, works with INGRAM, works with the printer, and does my finances, and all my media and marketing materials. What doesn’t he do!
He also has done the illustrations for a book that will come out later, called “Owly,” which is a story I wrote for my daughter who loves owls. Tim always wanted to do a book together to give to my daughter to always have throughout her life. He is also my “go to man!” I go to him for everything before I act. I always know that he will understand where I am coming from, my feelings about something, and whether or not I should do something regarding my career. 
He’s my rock and the love of my life. We have two beautiful children together. My daughter is 3, about to turn 4, and our baby boy is 10 months old. While I work events and travel on my book tours, Tim often comes with me and our two children. He will help me set up for my event, bring me food and take care of the kids at the event while I work. Afterwards, he comes back to help me break down and pack up the car again. I am incredibly lucky!

- How did you feel when Mousekabitz won the Best Picture book award? Have you any plans to turn it into an audio book in the future?

It felt wonderful to know that the book had touched so many hearts that it won an award of this kind. I was so excited. I have also been lucky to have gotten such wonderful feedback from teachers about the book! It’s just wonderful! 
I have also gotten 5 Stars from Readers Favourite on 4 out of the six titles that I have and 4 Stars for the other two, so I am truly lucky. 
In addition, I just found out yesterday that I won three amazing children’s book awards from Creative Child Magazine. Mouskabitz and Lars the Monkey Flies a WACO Airplane both won: 2014 Preferred Choice Award, Kids Book Category and Tyler the Fish Saves Lake Erie won: 2014 Seal of Excellence Award in Kids Book Category.
No, I have no plans of turning it into an audio book yet, but maybe someday.

- Having spoken to authors in the past, one of the areas they find most difficult is that of publicity. You always seem to be out and about. Can you give any advice on what you've found works for you?

What I tell people who come up to me at events and say to me, “I have this book I have written,” I then say to them, if you are willing to make 40-100 phone calls a week, get on every social media account and hit it hard promoting yourself and booking events every day, you will make it! It’s the truth. You can never give up, and must keep on going no matter what anyone else says, and work, work, work. It’s constant. My life is 24 hours a day work, everyday. But I know my mission is important, so I don’t give up. I have given up a lot in my life, however, to be where I am today! But, I know that my children will know what it’s like to work hard for oneself, and that I was out there doing positive things in the world and sharing my moral lessons with children to make a difference. Its hard work but it’s worth it in the end.

- What does the future hold for you? Can you give us any clues on future books?

Yes, my seventh book is being released next week at the Summer Moon Festival at the Neil Armstrong Museum in Ohio July 19, 2014. It’s called, “If I Could Pull the Moon from the Sky.” The Character is based off my son, in the future tense and it’s a cute nursery rhyming book for toddlers. 
Then I will release two children’s books about my hometown’s Strawberry Festival in Troy, Ohio in June 2015 and 2016. The books titles are: “The Strawberry Festival” and “The Strawberry Festival and the Pie Eating Contest.” The festival is set in my hometown in Troy and it’s a huge, huge festival held every year in June. 
Then I have “Owly”, which I had talked about earlier, that my husband, Tim Rowe has done the art for and I have written. Not sure when that will release. We are still working on it.
However, I am on a two year book tour right now touring the US! I’m doing lots of book signings all over the country and attending book festivals and children’s festivals, Readings in schools, etc. I am very busy and don’t have much days open on my calendar for a very long time, but it’s a good problem to have. 
Meanwhile, I hope to go to Italy for a book tour some day for my Italian book, Giuseppe. That’s a big dream of mine to make a reality. But for now, I am doing a lot of television and radio appearances and media all over the US. I plan to just keep growing and stay on track with my mission and over the next 6 months, I plan to get an agent and bigger Publisher in New York. I also hope to get a great deal with a UK Publisher someday since I have lots of UK sales, followers, and supporters. It’s all in a day’s work! It will happen someday soon, I know it. However for now, I just take it one day at a time and I enjoy everything I have, which is a lot.

- Do you enjoy the reaction from the children when you read your books to them? 

Yes, I love to interact with the children as I read my books to them and teach them the meaning’s behinds my books but it’s so fun to hear the things they already know before I ask them! It’s great to see that they are enjoying my book and interacting with me and my books and getting excited.

Can you share any funny interactions with us? 

The funniest moment that I recall was a child who told me that Sadie farted, when the character, Sadie the Skunk puffs out a stink of icky fog! I laughed pretty hard.

- What would you say the greatest challenge for you has been as an author?

Honestly, I think being an author in general is a challenge. It’s about getting your material into the right hands at the right time and making good contacts with people that really believe you and your work. It’s about working with good people. It’s about keeping your motivation up and the fact that you must keep going even when it’s harder some days than others, and it’s about you always believing in your mission. 
I believe that I was put here on this earth by God to install the moral lessons I teach in my books into children and help inspire parents to read to their children every night. I like to teach children that you can do anything you set your mind to. But, it’s a hard mission sometimes because it means giving up a lot in my life. I am always working so I miss some things, but never my children’s events and that is where I draw the line. I refuse to have my child miss something or I miss an event of my child’s.
However, I get inspired by my family, my children, and husband to keep going every day. I also see how far I have come, and I know that I am teaching my children as they watch me teach other children. So it’s all worth the everyday challenges.  

 How do you balance your work as a writer with the role as a wife and mum?

That’s incredibly hard but the truth is that I have a routine that I follow and stick to. If I stick to this routine every day, I can take care of my family, address their needs, and then get my work completed. I would say that’s my balance, and that is how I keep it all flowing and working.

-What would you say is your favourite character so far within the books you have created?

Honestly, I love all my books and characters like they are my babies, just like I love my children and I don’t really have a favourite one because they are all special to me in different ways. 
However, the ones that I’m closest to are the books that I have written about my children. I love Ladybugs is about my daughter when she first began walking at 9 months. We had a ladybug infestation and she found a true love for ladybugs. Then, there is my new book coming this July, If I Could Pull the Moon from the Sky, which is about my son in the future tense, and also both of the Strawberry festival books coming soon, are about my two children. 

- Finally, and for any aspiring children's writers out there, what advice would you give to them?

 I like to tell children that anyone can be an author and practise makes perfect! So practise, practise, practise and read, read, read!! You can never read enough to get inspired and learn from other authors, the good and the bad and it’s really good to keep writing and practise your writing skills every day. Get inspired by the authors that have come before you. You can do whatever you put your mind to!

Meaghan, thank you so much for talking to us. We really do wish you all the best in the future. If anyone wants to find out more or purchase your books can you point them in the right direction?
Thank you for having me on your Blog. It’s been fun. 
You can order my books on Amazon.com just type in my name as the author, Barnesandnobles.com, booksamillon.com and gypsypublications.com or just email me at: meg.fisher@yahoo.com and I can send you one and sign it for you.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Removing Narrative Doubt from Your Writing

"Seem," "apparently," "appeared." Words that express doubt in the information they are conveying. I see these words pop up frequently in the works I read. The question is: what purpose are these words serving, and do they need to remain in your manuscript?

While you may feel like you need to indicate that your narrative voice is infallible, most of the time you do not need these words. They indicate doubt in your narrative: you are both telling your reader information and informing your reader that this information is in doubt. Does the character have the traits described, or does she only seem to have those traits, but is a completely different person underneath? In a place that is described as “apparently safe,” are we as readers supposed to suspect that it is not?

With most narratives, that can be a very complicated position to put the reader in: their only avenue of knowing the narrative world doubts its own veracity. And to describe something in the language of doubt is to insert that its total opposite as also a vague, but not ruled out possibility. If a character “seems pleasant,” it does not rule out that that character contains Lovecraftean horror underneath. In fact, it’s a little bit more possible than if they “are pleasant.”

If you are playing with this, I applaud you, by all means, go forth and conquer, but I would wager most of you doubt your narrative voice without being aware of it.  You are used to working in a world (this one in which we all operate) where others can test the veracity of our perceptions.  Such doubting language may be a good defense against someone who will butt in and say “but that isn’t right.” It’s easy to back off of. You weren’t invested.

But guess what? This is your world. Your creation. You are the genesis of this world, unless your narration is grounded within a very unsure character, write with certainty.  If your “seems” are there because of your own fear, then they really need to go.

“But what about unreliable narrators?” I hear some of you ask. Wouldn’t these words be great for them? While you could use this for an unreliable narrator, even there I would say resist. There are ways to communicate doubt without using "seem," and the some best unreliable narrators are the ones who think they are reliable, but that give away clues that they are not. Those are the ones that don’t even know doubt if it was pointed out to them in the dictionary.
I’m not saying never use these words, but become aware of when you use them.  Use them too much and they undercut you as author. You tread lightly with your words, in a world that you have created. Go boldly into that world. No one is going to say you have observed your own world wrong.

Go forth; revel in your writer-god status. Strike down those “seems” and those “appears.” Be definitive.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

The Myth of Going It Alone

Many self-published authors believe that they can produce a polished product completely on their own. While this isn't a sales pitch (look at me, I'm an editor, I can solve your dilemma) I am going to draw attention to a phenomena. No one can see all the flaws in their own writing, especially in a book length manuscript. These words have become as familiar to you as your own skin after the second or third time through; after all, they sprung from you.  In a very real way, they are you. You start reading a sentence with the intention of looking at it with an eye for errors, and instead fall into the sentence you knew you wrote, rather than the one on the page. We all do it.

There are those techniques we developed in school, when we were on deadline with a paper, and couldn't find someone at 2 a.m. to read our material. Perhaps it was playing around with font sizes, or reading every single word out loud (perhaps even with a funny accent, have I revealed too much about myself?). However, can these techniques work consistently over the span of an entire novel, when every word is as familiar as your own skin?

Having others read it can help, but you have to trust that they know their grammar rules, and can give you the feedback you want and need. If you are surrounded by people with English Literature degrees, willing to read your work, then you are a lucky writer. But best be sure you pay the investment they are making in your work somehow. Take them out to dinner, wash their car, or some other favor, because if you are getting good feedback from them, then they are investing a long time into your book. And even if you have the ideal collection of beta readers, have you gotten the sort of feedback you want? Are you sure that, in their donated time, that they have caught all the errors that could turn your readers off.

And here, we arrive at last, to the part you saw coming from the beginning: editors. But, I hear you say: "Editors are so expensive? How can I afford it?" But, I would wager that you have also ended up buying a poorly edited book, and been tossed clear out of the reading experience (if you could ever settle into it) every time you ran into a particularly bad sentence. Perhaps such an experience has led you to quietly return the book, or, even worse, loudly leave a bad review.  A reader's perception of the worth of your book, or your brand as an author, can be lost very quickly this way.  

As a self-published author, you should be thinking of ways to establish your book's authority within the mind of your reader. The judgment of your brand does not end at the point of sale. You want your reader not only to keep the book, but to rave about it to her friends and family, to give it to people for gift-giving occasions, to post it all over her social media space. Making sure that your prose is finely polished and cleaned, or that your structure is perfectly honed to play with your particular genre audience, is a good way to try to capture that lightening in a bottle. You want to bring the best product possible to market.

I know it can be a struggle to let someone else touch, editorially, what is essentially an extension of you. Every suggestion can sometimes feel more like a critique of you as the person then the work as a text. It is alright to feel anxious about that. You may want to cling to the idea of the lone writer, tapping away on her typewriter, creating in a safe and lonely space, rather than to potentially let someone else help you tweak your creative process. However, know this: a good editor will not rip the creative reigns from you.  We may suggest ways in which the story might be improved, points which it may be weak, or point at characters that may be falling towards stereotypes, but you are the author.  It’s your universe; we just want to help you communicate it clearly. No one needs to go it alone.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

From the Margins: Redshirts and Writing

Firstly, by way of a bit of an introduction, I am Suzanne, this agency's friendly neighborhood editor.  If you get to the end of this post and find that you like my thoughts on books, and would like to peek a bit further into my head, I have a separate blog over at http://galacticmarginalia.blogspot.com/.

Warning: In discussing this book, this post has to talk about the book as a whole. It therefore contains spoilers. Just go read the book first. You'll thank me for it.

What would happen if you were on a spaceship that is actually the set for a TV show in another and you didn't know it? Worse yet, not only are you a part of this TV show in another reality, it is a poorly written TV show meant to capitalize on the commercial success of Star Trek, and you aren't one of the bridge crew, you are staff on the lower levels—an extra.

Yes, that is right, you are a redshirt. This is the premise of the book by the same name by John Scalzi, but, at the same time, it is so much more than this. A book that seems to be a humorous examination of what it would be like to be a redshirt trapped on a show (Chronicles of Intrepid) with no concern for that character’s fate or back story actually becomes a very thoughtful, and sometimes incredibly poignant meditation about the writer’s role as god of his or her universe, and the responsibilities the writer has to his characters.

The book’s main characters (different from the ship’s bridge crew and therefore the “main characters” of the show for which the redshirts are being sacrificed for) begin to piece together the pattern of deaths not long after they arrive on the ship. Mysterious disappearances of mid-level officers when the senior officers arrive looking for people to staff away missions, strange and very flamboyant deaths with those same senior officers are involved. Members of the senior staff possess miraculous healing abilities (a convenience for a character wounded in one “episode” to be completely fit by next week’s adventure). All of these new recruits to the Intrepid were replacing people who had died.

But it wasn't until a yeti of a man appears out of the ductwork and tells our main character, Dahl, to avoid the Narrative that pieces start to fall into place. This book is hilarious.

In this book, what is one person’s reality is another person’s narrative, and is shaped by a writer and a writer’s whims. The senseless deaths turn out to be the dramatic gasp needed before the cut to a commercial break, to try to make the danger real without affecting the main “cast” of characters. As far as Chronicles of Intrepid is concerned, the character has no back story, and very little value beyond a little drama. However, from the vantage point we are given through our cast of “redshirts”, we as readers see each one of these deaths as fully felt and realized, and yet they are controlled by a force that has less than the normal cosmic disregard for human life.

In order to gain control of their destinies, these characters travel back to our time (by way of capturing one of the main characters, in order to bend the laws of physics to their favor), in order to meet their writer-god and plead for their lives and dignity. In a plot twist consistent with the twists that had littered the characters’ time on the Intrepid, a solution presents itself that allows the redshirts to put the producers of the show in their favor. They return to their own timeline having saved the day, and hopefully earned the right to die deaths worth dying.

But when you, dear reader, have gotten to the page when you read, “They all lived happily ever after. Seriously,” there are about 100 pages left in the book. This is where the book changes tones, and gets intensely interesting. There are three codas, labeled “First Person,” “Second Person,” and “Third Person,” all dealing with the fall out of the redshirts' visit on individuals in 2012.

The first coda is the one I really want to focus on. It’s written as the personal, anonymous blog of the head writer for the TV show, Chronicles of Intrepid, from the moment right after he’s found out that when he writes a death scene for a character, someone really dies. It is an interesting meditation on writing, writer’s block, and feeling responsible to your characters to provide them a death (and a life) of worth. And underneath it all, the fact that maybe the universe itself may be a chaotic, essentially meaningless world, but that is all the more reason not to let the written universe be. Let me share with you a scene from the “blog,” which Nick, the writer, recounts a dream he had which all of his dead characters came back to talk to him:

Look, I get it, Finn. You’re unhappy with being dead. So am I. That’s why I am blocked!

You don't get it. None of us are pissed off at being dead.

I am!

(to REDSHIRT #4)
Not now, Davis!
(back to Nick)
None of us except for Davis are pissed off at being dead. Death happens. It happens to everyone. It’s going to happen to you. What we’re pissed about is that our deaths are so completely pointless. When you killed us off, Nick, it doesn't do anything for the story. It’s just a little jolt you give the viewers before the commercial break, and they've forgotten about it before the first Doritos ad fades off the screen. Our lives had meaning, Nick, if only to us. And you gave us really shitty deaths. Pointless, shitty deaths.

Shitty deaths happen all the time, Finn. People accidentally step in front of buses, or slip and crack their head on the toilet, or go jogging and get attacked by mountain lions. That’s life.

That’s your life, Nick. But you don't have anyone writing you, as far as you know. We do. It’s you. And when we die on the show, it’s because you've killed us off. Everyone dies. But we died how you decided we were going to die. And so far, you've decided we'd die because it’s easier than writing a dramatic moment whose response is earned in the writing. And you know it, Nick. (p. 266-67)

As I was transposing this quote, there is something about that last moment (“but you don't have anyone writing you, as far as you know” [emphasis added]) which makes this coda, and perhaps this book, strike a chord with me. Don't those two themes often go hand in hand: the power of the author within the universe he or she has created, and the larger analogue of a controlling power in our own universe? These characters are rising up and doing what we ourselves cannot, questioning their creator (finding out for sure they have one and that he is a flawed senior script writer that may drink too much) and demanding that their deaths have meaning.

Since want to keep this blog away from the blatantly religious, I will open up the floor to you, dear reader. How much responsibility do you feel the writer has to his or her characters? If you are a writer, do you characters act in unexpected ways? When you kill them off, do you feel like you are actually killing them off? Do you feel like the writer-god of your universe, or do you feel more like you are the conduit for the narrative and your characters are talking to you?