My interview of Wreckage by Emily Bleeker appears on page 15.
In The Practical County Drama Queen, eleven-year-old Frannie has ten weeks to stop her older brother Ronnie from making the biggest mistake of his life. As the youngest of Practical County’s Ryan family, Frannie has grown up watching everything. Watching her older brother and sister show steers, watching her Granddad work with the cows and calves, and watching the Darling sisters manipulate, lie, and cheat at the Practical County Fair. Frannie has also grown up knowing that, if she’s persistent enough, she can usually accomplish whatever she set out to do. But in this summer tale of growing up and letting go, Frannie begins to realize that some things in life just might be beyond her control.
2. What was the inspiration behind your main character?
Frannie was a fan-favorite character in my debut novel, The Beef Princess of Practical County. Then, she was a precocious preschooler with a huge vocabulary and an even bigger imagination. Readers begged me to give Frannie her own story. So, Frannie grew up a little, and what a story she has to tell!
3. Who are your favorite authors?
I have always had great respect for Katherine Paterson. And, anything written by Cynthia Rylant is golden in my eyes!
4. What has been the biggest challenge on your path to publication?
Patience. It goes against my nature to be patient. But authors know that the publishing world moves at a turtle’s pace. If you can’t be patient, you’ll give up before you get to the best part!
5. Were you a drama queen as a teen?
Me? (Laughs hysterically) Oh, pul-eeze! Why you even ask me that? For crying out loud! A drama queen? Ha! Really. (Rolls eyes).
6. If you were to describe yourself as a type of livestock, what would you be?
I’m probably a mother hen. I could curl up on a nest and brood all day.
7. What are your writing strengths?
I’m an instinctive writer. I don’t follow an outline. I break a lot of “rules.” I like working on character and setting. Planning out the plot gives me fits, so I usually just write and see what happens. Is that a strength? Or chaos in action? I’m not sure, exactly.
8. Was it easier to find a publisher for this book, than your debut novel, The Beef
Princess of Practical County?
One would think! But life is tricky sometimes, isn’t it? I entered The Beef Princess of Practical County in the Delacorte Dell Middle Grade Fiction Contest in 2008. I didn’t win. No one did, actually. It was one of the years they didn’t choose a winner. But shortly after, I got a call saying I was a finalist. And, would I be willing to do some work on the novel and resubmit it? Uh, sure? Of course! So, Beef Princess was sold to a Random House imprint without an agent on a second try. Not your typical “how I got published” story, I’ll admit.
Beef Princess fans asked for more. (But my editor didn’t.) Young readers said, “You should write another Practical County story!” (Hmm, my editor didn’t.) School teachers said, “Frannie surely has her own tale to tell!” (But my editor wasn’t asking for Frannie’s tale.) So, I wrote it. And much to my shock and chagrin, guess who wasn’t all that interested? I know, I know. I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed sometimes.
After Beef Princess, I landed a fantastic agent, who sold my middle-grade novel about Danish gnomes at Christmastime (a bit of a leap from cattle farming, I know) to Candlewick Press. That is Winterfrost – due to release 9/9/14. My wonderful agent was determined to sell The Practical County Drama Queen. But we were met time and time again with this: It just doesn’t make sense for us to publish a sequel to something we didn’t publish in the first place.
Enter SCBWI. Their member’s magazine had a story last year on E-First Publishers. These publishers put books out in electronic format first. Then, they may or may not offer a print edition. My agent submitted, and MuseItUp offered an electronic AND print contract right away. Frannie’s tale would be told!
9. How do you balance writing with raising a family?
Seasons. I give myself permission NOT to write during certain seasons. When my farmer husband is planting or harvesting and I’m doing all the household chores, feeding extra farmhands, and running for parts to fix broken equipment, I give myself permission NOT to write. When I’m hosting the extended family Christmas and working parttime and caring for aging in-laws, I give myself permission NOT to write. It sure beats beating myself up for NOT writing. But when I have a deadline or a blizzard hits or I’m just inspired, I declare a season of writing. And that’s when I give myself permission NOT to fold laundry. It sure beats beating myself up over it.
10. Can you tell us about your writing space?
Right now I write just about anywhere I can find a quiet corner. But, I’m working on restoring a one-room schoolhouse built in 1894. It has been used as a barn for more than 50 years, so it needs a lot of work! When it’s done, I want to use it as my writing studio. And, I dream of having a cat there. I’d name her Miss Beadle.
I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Michelle Houts. To learn more visit her website www.michellehouts.com
To buy her books visit your favorite local independent bookstore or www.amazon.com, www.barnesandnoble.com
The Hedgecock family had the privilege of staying at Tahuayo Lodge in Peru this summer. I was glad that I had read Paul Beaver’s Diary of an Amazon Jungle Guide, prior to our trip. It truly captures the amazing diversity of animals and plants, the fascinating culture of native folks and the magical, mysterious world of the Amazon.
In one paragraph, tell us about your book, Diary of an Amazon Jungle Guide.
I started the Amazon’s first adventure camping company 33 years ago. I had so many crazy adventures, bringing people into a wilderness that contains the Earth’s greatest biodiversity. So many crazy and funny encounters of people, plants, insects, monkeys, snakes, etc. After 20 years of working in the jungle I found that I was starting to forget some of the crazy times people would recall to me. So I thought I had better start to write things down.
Your tales encompass a large number of expeditions and I imagine the material for your book took years to accumulate, but how long did it take you to actually write the book?
Once I put pen to paper it just all poured out, 10 chapters worth in about a month. Seven years later I added another 3 chapters.
Who is your favorite naturalist?
I’ll give you two, Charles Darwin, the father of modern biology and Steve Irwin, who shared such joy of nature in his Crocodile Hunter series; Darwin appeals to my serious nature and Irwin to my crazy, no-holds-barred sense of joy in wildlife adventures.
If you were a jungle animal what would you be?
People who have camped with me in the jungle say I remind them of a sloth. I don’t know what to make of that exactly; perhaps because I’m always unruffled, even in tense wilderness situations, and always with an absent-minded smile.
Your book touches on many interesting topics including the little known ruins, Kuelap, which you say is more impressive than Machu Picchu. Do you think this site will ever achieve the same tourism popularity?
It should, if the government ever invests in infrastructure like a good airport and roads.
Your honeymoon camping trip in the Amazon was, shall we say, unique. Did you ever take a more traditional vacation?
Hah, let me tell you about that. My bride, Dolly, was so uncomfortable and miserable, but I said to her that one day we would just laugh about it. Well once every few years I’ll ask her if she’s ready to laugh about it yet. Finally after about 18 years she says yes, she’s finally ready to laugh. Then just to make sure I ask her again today, and its back to no, it really isn’t funny. Well, maybe in another 18 years….
Your depiction of the riberenos culture is well done in the book. Can you tell us about your wife’s efforts to improve the quality of life for these people?
It grew out of her compassion for her sister native women. She wanted to make sure they were not abused and had what they needed for their children. From there it led to economic initiatives for the native women, then a medical clinic (it is probably the finest rural clinic in the Amazon), then educational initiatives and additional health care programs.
Do you have plans to write another book?
I hope to add another chapter in a year or two. I have been getting together with my old shaman friend, Cumpanum. He is very old now, as I am. We get together and talk over old times, every conversation starting with “remember when” and ending in gales of laughter. But these talks have given me more insight into his history and life, which I wish to share.
I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Paul Beaver. Learn more about the Tahuayo River Lodge on his website: www.perujungle.com. Dolly’s nonprofit organization (Angels of the Amazon) website is:www.angelsoftheamazon.com.
The book is available on Amazon.com bookstore at www.amazon.com/Diary-Amazon-Jungle-Guide-Encounters/dp/0972480919.
I have never been a big reader of poetry. But when I do, I tend to love it. I embrace the imagery and the way those lean, clever words make me ponder. Four years ago, at Back to School Night, my daughter’s freshman English teacher read Mary Oliver ‘s The Summer Day (famouspoetsandpoems.com/poets/mary_oliver) to the assembled parents. As a biologist and lover of literature, I cannot believe that I had never heard of this writer. She and I are kindred spirits, yet she unfolds the natural world in a way I have never experienced. After all, I took an Entomology class in college, so how could I not know that a grasshopper chews back and forth?
This learned woman who teaches high school English read this poem to us parents, just as she had guided our children through the verses on the first day of school, because of the message in this beautifully written poem. Each stanza draws us in and leaves the reader with a simple reminder: We only get one shot at life. On that night, with a room filled with mothers and fathers, this English instructor closed her book and issued a challenge: Pause and ask yourself a question, not just at weddings or funerals or when you ship your children off to college, ask yourself today this concluding line of Mary Oliver’s poem: Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
I shipped my youngest daughter off to college a few weeks ago. I know what I want to do with my life. I want to practice the craft of writing in the hopes that I, too, will capture the power of words — words that will make someone realize that death is inevitable, that every day is a gift, that each moment is an opportunity to reflect on the direction of one’s life. Until then, let me pass along Mary Oliver’s poignant phrase: Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
In one paragraph, tell us about your new book, Palisades Park.
Like my novels Moloka’i and Honolulu, Palisades Park tells the “history behind the history” of this renowned amusement park, as seen by young Toni Stopka, daughter of concessionaires, who dreams of becoming a daredevil high diver. Performers, pitchmen, the civil rights demonstrators picketing the gates, the underworld bosses meeting in secret across the street…all their stories are intertwined in a narrative that spans the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War, up to the park’s closure in 1971.
What was your favorite novel or screenplay to write?
I enjoyed writing Palisades Park, but the novel I enjoyed most was Moloka’i. I got up every day excited to begin work on that book, because I was writing about a place that I loved—Hawai’i—and a little-known part of history that no one else had approached in quite this way. I did my research in the morning, wrote in the afternoon until dinnertime, and often went back to my computer in the evening if I had a problem that still had to be resolved or a if a new idea had occurred to me that I wanted to get down.
What do you see as the biggest difference between writing a novel and a screenplay?
A screenplay is a blueprint for a film, and my job as a screenwriter is to tell the story through action, dialog, and minimal scene description. But when I’m writing a novel I’m not just the writer, I’m the director, the actors, the location scout, the set dresser, the wardrobe supervisor—I have to create the entire world of the story in words. Each medium has its own challenges and its own rewards.
Tell us about winning an Emmy for your work on the television show, L.A. Law, in 1991. Did you get more satisfaction for this achievement, for the People’s Choice Award, or for winning the Nebula Award for “Ma Qui”?
The Emmy was something I had dreamed about winning since I was a kid—literally. Growing up, my idols were writers like Rod Serling, Paddy Chayefsky, Ernest Kinoy, James Costigan—the men behind the “golden age of television” of the 1950s (most of which I didn’t experience firsthand, being a bit too young, but discovered through reruns and movies). So it was quite a rush being up on stage at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium when L.A. Law won for Best Drama Series. But I’m very proud of my Nebula Award as well, since that was a validation of, and my first award for, my literary work.
What authors or people have most influenced your writing career?
It’s an eclectic mix: authors like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Nathanael West, Jonathan Strong and Ray Bradbury; playwrights like Robert Anderson and Thornton Wilder; and the aforementioned Serling, Costigan, et al. I’ve gone on to write in all those media—books, a play, film—and I like to think I continue to be influenced by good work in each field. (Moloka’i, as I’ve said elsewhere, was inspired by a fine novel called Consider This, Señora by Harriet Doerr, Honolulu shows influences of the work of Arthur Golden and Lisa See, and Palisades Park owes something to Larry McMurtry’s The Desert Rose).
I understand that you are transforming one of your first novels, Time and Chance, into a screenplay. As you revisit this work, where do you see your biggest improvement as a writer over time? Is reworking this novel like visiting an old friend?
I had the opportunity to bring Time and Chance back into print a few years ago, and in the process I found myself doing a fairly heavy polish on it. I didn’t change anything in the story, just polished or simplified the prose where it seemed too flowery or where the syntax was a bit rococo. I performed what I like to call a “semi-colonectomy,” deleting vast numbers of unnecessary commas, semi-colons, dashes, and ellipses that I would not use when writing a novel today. It made me realize that my prose style has evolved since 1990 (when Time and Chance was published)—it’s cleaner, leaner, smoother.
Do you enjoy book tours or writing more?
I’m essentially an introvert who can be extroverted when the occasion demands (you have to be to work in Hollywood, where you collaborate daily with so many people). So although I do enjoy book tours and meeting readers, I’m at heart happiest when sitting in a room writing.
I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about Alan Brennert. To learn more, visit his website (http://www.alanbrennert.com).
I have been doing blog interviews as part of my critique group blog: writers on the journey and am reposting some of them on my personal blog. Here is meteorologist Steve Paulson’s interview:
In one paragraph, tell us about your new multi-media photo eBook, What’s Up Bangkok.
It’s an interactive multimedia eBook with pictures, video, maps, audio, external and internal links highlighting International Photographer and good friend, Daniel Herron. He’s from the Bay Area, Mountain View, but is now based in Bangkok. He takes great photos so I suggested we do an eBook showcasing his work with a focus on travel to Thailand through interactivity.
What do you think are the advantages of multi-media books and what genre do you think best suites this format?
You can do some much more through interactivity. With an iPad, enhanced features such as video and even audio can take the reader on a journey which isn’t available in print. Many magazines are now taking this path. “Entertainment Weekly” is cutting edge by offering a download of their weekly publication. Movie Trailers, additional video of movie star interviews plus direct links to Musical artists where you can buy one of their songs online are all possible through interactivity. Can’t do it in print. Best genres are Cookbooks, Children’s Books, Travel and believe it or not, Japanese Anime. Comic books are going through the roof as eBooks.
What should an author that is planning on using multi-media consider before taking the plunge?
Either Doing It Yourself (DIY) or farming it out. Some eBook building platforms aren’t that difficult to learn but like anything new, they take time. Do you want to build an eBook or an App? There’s a huge difference. If you farm your work out, make sure you have deep pockets. How much interactivity are you considering? Only pictures? Not that difficult. Adding any audio or video? Not you’re talking work. Our eBook completely taxed the platform we used. We made them better but not before a lot of frustration. I can’t tell you how the littlest things stopped me cold. Usually, I figured it out but sometimes, I had to ask for help.
What have been the biggest challenges in tackling this media and would you do it again?
Biggest challenge was having interactivity work not only on my computer but transferring it “clean” to an iPad Took two months for our eBook to playback the way I wanted it on an iPad. A lot of platforms say they’re interactive but most are vanilla. Yes, I would definitely do it again and already have two new projects in the pipeline. Here are two cool examples but trust me, this took a lot of work:
What platforms exist and do you recommend any of them for authors that want to make their novels multimedia? Would you have a different recommendation for nonfiction?
If you use an iMac, then I would recommend iAuthor. Most authors use WORD for print and that’s fine but if you’re considering multimedia or interactivity, many Platforms won’t work on a PC. Your best bet by a mile is a new iMac desktop with iMovie, iPhoto and Garageband. You’ll have to teach yourself how to use those but workshops plus One-on-One help is available at Apple. For our book, we used “Aerbook.” Located in San Francisco. Excellent customer service for code issues or help in understanding how to build something. I think they’re a great first eBook option if you want to build a children’s book or quick travel book. Other Platforms include “Inkling”, “Bookbaby” and “Vook”. Fiction or nonfiction would both work. If you really want to go all out, learn or pay someone who knows Adobe InDesign CS6. Probably the slickest option available but it’ll cost you some serious bank.
Did your background in television help you?
No, not really. I’m a visual person anyway so this was all in the same vein if you will. We did have access to our Audio Booth so we had a great option for sound quality.
What can an author expect financially if they do the work themselves before and after their book is published?
Try and do it yourself because you’ll save a ton of money. The sweat and frustration equity takes a toll but I was quoted $5000 to build our book and I did for just under $1000. Don’t expect to get rich. 10 months of work and we listed our eBook at $3.99. Most readers/viewers simply won’t pay too much online. For the amount of time and effort I put into building our eBook, it should be listed at $19.99 but I doubt we’d sell too many. Don’t forget, Apple iBooks takes 30% then your Distribution source (ours is Aerbook and we use their Retail Store) or Payment Channel, will take anywhere from an additional 5% to 12%. That doesn’t leave much left for you.
How long does adding multimedia content typically take?
Took me about 10 months. Do a rough draft on time then double it. For a basic picture book with only a little bit of interactivity, I would think two to four months.
What about copyright concerns?
This is a great question and big concern. We had to completely revamp our eBook on the day of publication due to the owner of Aerbook saying there were copyright issues. Dropped all copyrighted music and went back in and built everything using royalty free music. Royalty free music (on iTunes) or original songs are your best friend!
Can you provide some useful links?
Heavy hitters called Aptara: http://www.aptaracorp.com
Payment System you link directly into your eBook—Gumroad: https://gumroad.com