Friday, July 13, 2012

[Interview] Jennifer McBride

Jennifer McBride has written and published books that include Touching the Trees (2011); Cape of Leaves (2012); Basement Daisies (2012) and Child Less Parent (2012).

In this interview, she talks about her concerns as a writer:

When did you start writing?

I began writing a few years after I began to read. My first "produced" work was in 2nd grade. I was around seven or eight years old and I wrote a play that my teacher allowed me to make into a classroom production. At around the same time, I wrote a story that my uncle read aloud to a large family reunion. I was hooked after that.

What made you decide you wanted to be a published writer?

I resisted the urge to be published because I thought it was too difficult to achieve but once self-publishing became an option, I explored this avenue and found that I really enjoyed being involved in every aspect of the publishing process.

I majored in writing in college, but didn't do much with that for almost 15 years. Then I began taking writing classes at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis and knew I wanted to work at being a published author. More interesting, though, is that about six years ago I made a conscious decision to not write. I was trying to find a way to stay in a relationship and I knew writing was going to lead me to find myself... and lead me away from the sad comfort of that situation. So, I sat in a bar in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and announced "I will not be a writer."

In that funny way life has of changing one's mind, though, it wasn't three months later that the urge and desire and calling to write became overwhelming and I began taking classes again. I haven't stopped writing since.

Needless to say, I'm not in that relationship anymore.

How would you describe your writing?

It's funny you ask that. I'm kind of a Kelly Clarkson writer. I dabble in many genres... nonfiction, essay, blogging, poetry, and fiction... just like she's able to sing in many different ways: country, pop, soul, rock, etc. I am, however, primarily a non-fiction writer right now.

Who is your target audience?

My target audience has been slightly different for each book I've written.

Overall, my audience is women and men who have had to make significant changes in their lives, whether it's because of relationships, job transitions, illness, etc. I became motivated to write for this audience when I became divorced and in search of an identity other than "wife" and "carpooler."

In the writing you are doing, which authors influenced you most?

Mary Oliver and Billy Collins have influenced my poetry. I try to write accessible poems that express deep emotions. Mary Oliver's poetry sung to me and I heard Billy Collins speak in Minneapolis many years ago and I thought, "Wow. I really like his poetry. I should try writing some."

For my non-fiction, I'm inflenced by Elizabeth Gilbert and Anna Quindlen. Both women are frank, unashamed, and witty. I long to write like them!

For fiction, my "mentors" are Janet Evanovich and Jonathon Kellerman. I'm trying to find a balance between murder mystery, humor, and societal issues.

Have your own personal experiences influenced your writing in any way?

That's all they do! I write nonfiction "self-help" because I needed help and finally feel I can share what I've learned with others.

When I was getting divorced, I thought there had to be a better way to "do" the incredible changes that come from such a traumatic life experience. I didn't want my divorce to be in vain... I wanted to be a better, stronger, more alive person because of it.

One of my books is in reaction to finding out more about Parental Alienation Disorder and how un-noticed and un-handled it is in the family court system. One book was written as a series of affirmations for my father-in-law, who is/was going through cancer treatment. The book I'm working on now is all the things I wish I could tell my teenagers (if only they could hear me!).

In addition, I may be the most unknown writer to have a stalker, but because of that, I've had to make very conscious decisions to ignore the fear and threats and keep writing. Many times it would have been easier to power down the laptop (and I have shut down five different blogs because of this), but I can't let that person or uncertainty stop me. Not now. I do try to be a little more careful with what I write and have chosen an entirely different name for my fiction writing, but those are the only two concessions I'll make.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

My biggest concern is being able to make a living being a writer. I deal with this concern by producing quality work at a brisk pace. I network, seek out new venues, and make connections. Mostly, I believe that I'll reach my goal of self-sufficiency through writing and then I don't have to worry about it!

The biggest challenges I face are finding the right audience and convincing that audience that they want to read my work. I deal with this challenge by learning all I can about marketing, audience desires, and trends. I work on positioning my work, both in timing and content, to have the biggest impact on the market.

Do you write everyday?

I write about five days a week. Each session starts with poking around on the internet, checking email, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Once that's all done (or I'm irritated with myself for procrastinating), I pull up the piece I'm working on and re-read just a little before where I'm picking it up.

I learned during NANOWRIMO 2008 (National Novel Writing Month) that the best way to move forward in a piece is to keep going back to re-do what's already been written. And it's true. When I get busy editing the first part, I don't always get around to writing the next part.

My writing sessions end when I have to be somewhere, the kids come home, I'm exhausted, or I've reached a good stopping point. I've been known to write for five or six straight hours with almost no breaks. I always wonder where those days have gone!

How many books have you written so far?

I've written six books so far:
  • Child Less Parent: "Snapshots" of Parental Alienation: a primer, with photos, of what Parental Alienation is, how to prevent it, how to correct it, and (if all else fails) how to have hope that life will go on. Written with input from members of the Parental Alienation Awareness Organization. Published in April, 2012 by my company, CCS Communications.
  • Basement Daisies: a book of thirteen affirmations and accompanying photos for people who need hope. Originally published with the blessing of the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, Basement Daisies was a fundraiser to honor my father-in-law. Now it's available to all. Published in October, 2011 by CCS Communications.
  • Cape of Leaves: a compilations of poems about relationships and identity. I feel they are similar in style to Mary Oliver's work. Published in February, 2011 by CCS Communications.
  • Touching the Trees: a motivational memoir about finding identity through crisis. This book is a series of metaphors/stories that highlight all the changes one has to go through to find an authentic voice and life. Publishing in December 2010 by CCS Communications.
  • The Parents' Guide to Boys' Lacrosse: written under the name Jenni Lorsung, this book is a parent guide to understanding the sport of youth lacrosse. Published in January 2009 by CCS Communications.
  • The Parents' Guide to Girls' Lacrosse: written under the name Jenni Lorsung. This book is the companion guide to girls' youth lacrosse. Published in January 2009 by CCS Communications.
How would you describe the books you are working on at the moment?

My latest book is non-fiction and focuses on the ways I think "being" and "not being" are vital to a healthy life. For instance, in this case I'm "being" forthright in sharing my story with you!

I'm also concurrently working on a novel about a reporter who has great struggles in his relationship with his ex-wife and daughter while also chasing down a serial killer. I'm working on "not being" anxious about getting it done soon!

I'm still working on these two books.

Generally, how long does it take you to finish writing a book?

Child Less Parent and Basement Daisies each took about 4-6 months to write. My other books took over a year each.

For my longer non-fiction books, I allot about a year to do research, write, edit, and produce.

I self-publish all of my titles. I don't do this because I'm a control freak. Instead, I chose self-publishing so I could have tangible work product and potential income as soon as possible. I use CreateSpace as my production company because of their link to Amazon and (especially now that I've used them so much) their ease of developing a book. I also use Kindle as my exclusive e-book distributor. The disadvantage is that I have to do all the marketing myself, which is not my strength.

Which were the most difficult aspects of the work that went into the books you have published so far?

In Touching the Trees, I found it extremely difficult to be honest and vulnerable. I'd come from many years of silenced feelings and it felt very frightening to put all those feelings out in the world for anyone and everyone to see.

As I suspected, my family (current and ex) wasn't all crazy about some of what I wrote, but I believe that I have a right and an obligation to tell the story truthfully. Based on reactions to the book, it was the right decision to stare that fear down and write it anyway.

Which aspects of the work do you enjoy most?

I enjoy the beginning and the end of the book-writing process.

I love having the brainstorms and squirting out thousands of words a day getting a book started. At the end, once the editing is complete, I really like designing the interior and the cover and planning a marketing strategy.

The middle part... editing... is hard for me.

What sets Touching the Trees apart from other things you've written?

I try to bring a sense of hope and trust to all of my work. I don't want my audience put-off by proclamations, so I write to be disarming and compassionate.

Touching the Trees is the most autobiographical book I've written. The others, with the exception of Cape of Leaves, are more objective non-fiction. Touching the Trees gets to my core.

What are your plans for the future?

My next really big project will be about a place in Northern Minnesota that hosts very old inns and has great histories of dynamic, eccentric innkeepers. I see so much potential in this book and have begun interviewing people and visiting the inns.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

My most significant achievement as a writer is that I've been able to touch lives in ways I didn't know I could.

It's not the awards or the accolades that mean the most to me. It's the honestly... or hesitantly... written emails and comments that show me that my words have found a way to lodge themselves in someone else's soul and have made a positive difference. I always knew words had that effect on me... I just never realized I had the power to use my own to have an effect on others.

It's a privilege to be read.

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Sunday, July 8, 2012

Interview [3] _ Mark Adam Kaplan

School teacher and screenwriter Mark Adam Kaplan has written and published two novels, A Thousand Beauties (Bewrite Books, 2009) and Down (Bewrite 2012) as well as an illustrated picture book, Monsters Do Ugly Things (BookBaby, 2011).

In this interview, he talks about his latest novel:

How would you describe Down?

Down is a contemporary, urban, YA thriller about a 15-year old trying to stay out of lock up. Leon Mendoza starts the school year with an ankle monitor and an upcoming court date. He's determined to stay out of trouble. But how can he with the pending charges against him, his P.O. breathing down his neck, a father in jail, a mother in deep depression, and even his home boys pressuring him to quietly take the rap?

Will the attention of an attractive school girl, the support of a few teachers and a part-time job make a difference to Leon? Or is he destined to follow in his father's footsteps, and spend his life in and out of jail?

How did the idea behind the novel come about?

I teach middle school in East Los Angeles, I have seen how disconnected from pleasure reading most of my students are. Reading for their classes is not just a chore for some of them, it is torture. A surprising number of middle school students in the inner cities in the United States have never read a complete book. A good number of them haven’t read any books since the third grade.

But I was lucky enough to come across Townsend Press, and their Bluford Series. These books offered adult, urban themes about teenagers at a very accessible reading level. Paul Langan, Anne Schraff, and John Langan have done a remarkable job creating high-interest books for urban teens. As a teacher, I assigned the Bluford books to my students, and I cannot count the number of formerly non-reading students who read not just one book of the series, but several.

Then one of my students, a 15-year old eighth grader, handed me Sapphire’s Push, which was turned into the movie “Precious”, and I saw further proof of these students’ needs.

Twenty years ago, in “For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Wasn’t Enough, Ntozake Shange said something like, “The New York TImes never said nothin’ to me.” She repeats it over and over.

That sentiment is still true.

Regardless of the advances so-called “minorities” have made in the political arena, urban kids today are inundated not with personally empowering works, or slice-of-life stories designed with respect for the audience. They are bludgeoned with senseless violence, or idiot humor - the Saw series, Scarface, American Me, Blood In Blood Out, any Adam Sandler film, SpongeBob, etc. The only other outlet they are afforded is sports, and many of them have parents who don’t let them out in the neighborhood to play sports because the area is dangerous.

As I looked into what else is available, I discovered Street Lit, and realized that I wanted to be a part of this movement. Although my life was blessed compared with some of my students’, I faced my own issues as a teenager, including getting thrown out of both a middle school and a high school (both public).

I realized how much I wanted to write a book for my students who are struggling readers. My personal writing process led me somewhere between Bluford and Precious, and I believe that Down will speak to a wider audience than those for whom I wrote it.

How long did it take you to write the novel?

The book gestated in my mind for a couple of years before I put it down on paper. But from the time I sat down to write until its publication this past May took about 22 months.

Did you write everyday?

I teach full-time, have two small children and a marriage that requires my attention. We home school our girls, so that is an additional demand on my time. I write when I can, where I can. Some times I don’t get to write for a week or two. Other times I can get a good three days in a row.

What happens most often is that I get time to write between 11.00pm and 1.00am. On a good day, I‘ll get in an hour or two before dinner.

As a teacher, I have periodic vacations, and my most productive times are usually then.

Which aspects of the work you put into the book did you find most difficult?

By far most of my difficulties have surrounded creating a genuine voice for Leon. The slang was not the problem, nor the tone, nor the inflection. What I found particularly difficult was being consistent with Leon’s syntax, and maintaining an appropriate grade-level vocabulary.

Early on, I decided that Leon’s voice would be confined to his speaking, but his thinking might operate at a higher level. But in conversations with my editor, Hugh McCracken, it became clear to me that the whole thing was in Leon’s voice, so I have to adjust all of the prose to be delivered with a third- or fourth-grade vocabulary. This insight engendered an enormous amount of work, and its efficacy continues to haunt me.

Which aspects of the work did you enjoy most?

I have been a teacher, on and off, since 1989. The best part of the book, for me, has always been the knowledge that I am writing something for struggling readers that might interest them enough so that they will finish it. I also enjoyed working with the character of Mr. Chong. Playing up the dynamic between Leon and Mr. Chong was really fun for me.

What sets the book apart from other things you've written?

This book is different from my other published work because it was written with a focus on maintaining an accessible reading level. I enjoy the interplay of words, and take pride in my prose. A Thousand Beauties is truly a beautifully written book. Down contains prose that is much more raw. The play of ideas is limited because Leon’s thinking is limited and Leon delivers this book.

There are similarities in that both Down and A Thousand Beauties are realistic, contemporary explorations of societal expectations, mores, and values. Both Leon (Down) and Ruskin (A Thousand Beauties) pressure themselves to perform well under immense duress. Both make terrible mistakes. Both characters are imperfect and multifaceted, and both try to maintain lives spiraling out of control. There are other similarities, but these, I think, are the important ones.

How did you choose a publisher for Down?

The novel was published by Bewrite Books, Canada, May 25, 2012, and is available in all digital formats.

Bewrite Books published my first novel, and I enjoyed (and benefited from) their editorial process. I have relationships with Neil and the people at Bewrite. They know me as more than the author of this one book. Their editorial process is enjoyable, and is designed to produce the best product possible. The disadvantage is that they no longer offer hard copies of the book.

What will your next book be about?

My next book is a historic, romantic farce set in Southern California around the turn of the last century. That’s about all I can say about it right now.

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