Interview with children’s author & illustrator Judy Mastrangelo

Judy Masrangelo Framed

My guest today is an author and talented illustrator of children’s fantasy books. She seems a bit shy, but I was able to coax a few answers out of her, regarding writing for children and creating beautiful illustrations. Because, after all, at least half of writing for children is creating visual images, so an author who can do their own illustrations comes into the game a step ahead. Please help me welcome author and illustrator Judy Mastrangelo.

Kaye: When did you know you wanted to be an author?

Judy: I’ve always enjoyed writing, ever since I was very young.

Kaye: Would you share the story of your own publishing journey?

Judy: As a child I would write little stories from my imagination, or about my everyday experiences.

Coming from a fine art background, I’ve always loved the wonderful artists of the “Golden Age of Illustration”, who illustrated books from about 1850 to 1925.  I like to think that I continue along this line in my own small way.  I enjoy writing stories that I illustrate, and also love illustrating classical stories in the public domain.

Many of my paintings have been licensed for various markets, such as art prints, wall murals, greeting cards, jigsaw puzzles, oracle cards etc.  I have written and illustrated several published books.  And I have both illustrated and written the text to a new inspirational Oracle Card Deck which will be on the market next year, published by “RED FEATHER MIND BODY SPIRIT”, a division of Schiffer Publishing.

You can see and hear podcasts about my artwork on Youtube.

These include some radio interviews, plus several teaching podcasts about the steps I take in the creation of my Art.  To learn more about my Art and products, you can visit: www.judymastrangelo.com

Kaye: What’s something most readers would never guess about you?

Judy: I am a “movie buff” and enjoy many genres of film.

Kaye: What is the biggest challenge of writing for children?

Judy: I try not to “talk down to children”.  Just having fun at writing is what I enjoy doing, and making my stories come from my heart, expressing how I feel. My books are really intended to be appreciated by all ages ~ the young and the young at heart.  I attempt to appeal to the “Child in all of us”, and to rekindle the wonderful feelings we have all experienced in our youth, of the awe and beauty of the world around us.  As we grow older, life seems to become more mundane, with all the everyday things we have to do in order to survive.  The realm of art certainly plays an extremely important part in everyone’s lives, so that we may feel uplifted and inspired to higher worlds.

Kaye: What is the one thing you hope to teach children?

Judy: I like to impart the wonder and beauty of the world around us; sensitivity to nature and to all living beings, including animals, plants, and trees, as well as humankind are excellent lessons to understand.  I feel that developing creativity as an art form, and one’s imagination, are very important aspects of life. Many people seem to place imaginative painting and literature more in a children’s category, although I’m sure you’ll agree that the genre of fantasy art is appreciated by all ages.

CINDERELLAMany adults also enjoy themes, such as fairy tales, and other types of fantasy. I’m sure no one will dispute the fact that great authors such as William Shakespeare, Hans Christian Andersen, Robert Louis Stevenson, James Barry, etc. wrote memorable outstanding fantasy stories. And that’s why I feel that my writing and paintings can also appeal to any age person.

One just has to “let go” of their preconceived notions that fantasy, fairies, fairy tales, etc. are just for the young. It will keep us all “Young at Heart” if we believe in the magical power of art to unleash our imaginations.

Kaye: Your books are illustrated in bright, vibrant colors. What medium do you work with?

Judy: Acrylic paint on canvas is my medium of choice.

 

Kaye: What is the most challenging thing about illustrating your own books?

Judy: The art of illustration is very dear to my heart, something I have been developing my entire life. It is a labor of love for me, and I paint because I enjoy doing it so much. I usually paint slowly, because I am somewhat of a perfectionist, and as a result my paintings aren’t created very quickly. This can sometimes present a problem. But I do enjoy illustrating my own books that I also design. Many of my books I have written myself, and others have stories or poems that are in the public domain which I illustrate. It’s all great fun to illustrate, and I relish every moment I spend doing my paintings!

Kaye: What is the most important quality in a children’s story for you?

Judy: Delight, imagination, and fun.

Kaye: What’s the best piece of advice you were ever given?

Judy: Be true to my heart, be myself, and enjoy the process of creating.

Kaye: Flower Fairies is focused on the characters. What comes first in your mind, the character, or the story?

Judy: I’m a very visual person, and often I first get images in my mind of a painting that I would like to create. Often this “germ” of an idea or image leads to a story, or a series of paintings. So I would say that the story as a whole comes first.

Kaye: As a children’s writer, what kind of research do you find yourself doing for your stories?

Judy: I often research period costumes for my characters to wear, and I also consider other art forms which portray the ideas I wish to develop in my stories. I love all forms of great art, and often music, drama, dance and other literature is a great inspiration to me, as well as great painting of course. So I immerse myself in art that I love, as part of my research for a specific project. It brings me great joy to do this.

Kaye: Tell me a little about your Portal to the Land of Fae series?

Judy: The world of nature spirits has always been fascinating to me. I love the realm of fantasy. And the tiny folk, such as fairies and elves are of particular interest. For many years I’ve done paintings of these lovable spirits, and have enjoyed writing about each painting I create.  I love writing poems to go with my artwork, and have enjoyed describing my feelings about the fairy world. The idea of making a series of books incorporating these works was an intriguing one for me, and four categories developed from them:

Flower FairiesFLOWER FAIRIES: This book tells about the precious Elves and Fairies who live amongst the Flowers, such as: the graceful ROSE FAIRY, and the comical little SWEET PEA ELVES.  I often depict Flower Fairies to appear as graceful ballet dancers. In this genre of art, I have been inspired by the Flower Fairy paintings of British artists Cicely Mary Barker and Margaret Tarrant.

 

 

SECRETS OF THE FAIRIES COVERIn my SECRETS OF THE FAIRIES, I portray the secret life of elves and fairies that I imagine to exist in amazing places.  There are many delightful things that i depict these creatures doing.  They often enjoy frolicking and playing in a garden.  These secrets tell of the hidden world of elves and fairies, little known to mortals. I’ve also written and illustrated depictions of the four seasons with the fairies, and their beautiful romantic lives.

 

FAIRY TALE FAIRIES, various forms of fantasy have always been the closest to my heart.  They include fairy tales and myths.

The world of fairies has often inspired the arts of other great literature.  Some excerpts from classical literature for this FAIRY TALE FAIRIES book are included in this volume. You will see some of my illustrations from Hans Christian Anderson’s Thumbelina, Cinderella by Charles Perrault, Peter Pan by James Barrie, and many others. Sometimes authors and painters depict elves and fairies in a darker way, but I prefer to focus on depicting the lighter, more cheerful and spiritual side of the fairy realm.

MYSTICAL FAIRIES COVERMYSTICAL FAIRIES:  In this volume, I want to share my feelings of Spirituality and Goodness, Love for Life and Nature, and the Healing power of Art. I feel that Elves and Fairies, are beautiful, Magical, and Spiritual Beings which can inspire and uplift one to higher realms.  I often depict them as radiant beings, which glow with an inner light, with radiating and sparkling auras, glow like spiritual Angels.

 

Kaye: Your Come Play with Me series includes bonus features. Would you like to tell us about the series and bonus features?

Judy: My Come Play With Me book series is designed to give readers high quality illustrated storybooks in full color.  They also include some delightful interactive bonus pages.  These books include fun filled things, such as How to Draw pages, coloring pages and recipes, etc.

THE STAR COVERMy first book in this series, THE STAR, illustrates the entire famous TWINKLE TWINKLE LITTLE STAR poem, written by Jane Taylor.  I’ve interpreted this beloved poem, as a fanciful, Dream-like adventure.   I’ve included a delicious bedtime snack recipe, some “how to draw” pages, a creative writing section, coloring pages, and some decorative gifts to cut out, etc.  An Audiobook of my book THE STAR is also available, where people can listen to this song being beautifully sung.  If the kindle ebook, or paperback versions of my book THE STAR are purchased also, along with the audio book, people can sing along with the audiobook as they read it interactively.

Two other books in this series have a Bunny theme: The first one, entitled WHAT DO BUNNIES DO ALL DAY? is my original story of a little Bunny’s first adventure.  Some interactive pages include Mama Bunny’s recipe, coloring pages, creative writing and drama ideas, and decorations to cut out from the book.  An audiobook of this story will be available soon, to be listened to interactively along with reading this book in kindle or paperback.

 

The second Bunny book in this series, LEARN TO DRAW BUNNY AND HIS FRIENDS, is a companion book to my book WHAT DO BUNNIES DO ALL DAY?  In it I show easy to do, attractive, and fun ways to learn to draw little Bunny’s animal and flower friends that he meets in the book about his first adventure.

 

Some of the animals I show how to draw are rabbits, frogs, butterflies and turtles. Then daffodils, daisies, and buttercups are several of the flowers I describe drawing, all in three easy steps.  It’s a delightful interactive book, which also includes special pages for people to draw their own pictures, with small border decorations for inspiration.

Kaye: Which character is your favorite? Why?

Judy: One of my favorite characters is Little Bunny in my book WHAT DO BUNNIES DO ALL DAY? He is a sweet innocent little rabbit who is delighted and excited at the opportunity of investigating the big world all by himself for the first time.  I’ve modeled this little animal on our own dear little Netherlands Dwarf pet rabbit, who is very loved by my husband and me.  He gives us both a lot of Love in return.  Knowing this adorable Little Bunny intimately was a great inspiration to writing and illustrating my story.

Kaye: Where does your inspiration come from?

Judy: My inspiration comes from many things: my love for nature, for instance.  When I am in a flower garden, I imagine delightful Flower Elves and Fairies living there.  I visualize them wearing costumes made of leaves and flowers, acorn caps, etc.  I collect things such as leaves, pine cones, berries, ribbons, and scarves, to give me ideas for their fanciful clothing.

I take photos of beautiful places that I visit, to give me ideas of backgrounds for my paintings. Great art of the past and present is always an inspiration to me, such as: wonderful films, great literature, beautiful music, ballet dancing, and beautiful paintings. They always kindle my enthusiasm.

Kaye: Is there anything unique or unusual about your creative process?

Judy: I have developed a method I call “Mind Painting”.  This is my own personal way of capturing ideas and images for my paintings and writing, which develop in my mind.  This is a procedure used by many creative authors, composers, painters, poets, choreographers, etc. throughout the ages. I just close my eyes and “visions” appear in my head.  I do this during the day, or at night before going to sleep. These images often develop into stories which evolve into my books. It’s a delightful process.

Kaye: What is your greatest achievement to date in the literary world?

Judy: Reading and hearing the wonderful and appreciative compliments from people who have read my books, and who have seen my illustrative paintings, has always been very encouraging to me.  I receive these compliments from all kinds of people, worldwide, and of all ages.  I feel that these wonderful responses have been the greatest achievements in my literary and artistic world.

I want to thank Judy Mastrangelo for sharing with us here today, both her wisdom and her fabulous illustrations and book covers. You can learn more about Judy and her children’s books on her website or on her Goodreads Author or Amazon Author pages.


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Should there be messages/morals in children’s books?

Growing bookworks 2

The idea that children’s picture books should contain a strong moral or message seems to be very popular among authors of books for young people. This notion probably emanates from parents and caregivers who are of the view that books are a tool for instructing their young, especially in our modern world of so many more risks to the welfare our children than ever before.

This idea does, however, always bring to my mind the lyrics of the song, A British Nanny sung by David Tomlinson, from the original movie of Mary Poppins:

“A British nanny must be a general!
The future empire lies within her hands
And so the person that we need to mold the breed
Is a nanny who can give commands!
Mr Banks: Are you getting this Winifred?
Mrs Banks: Oh yes dear, every word
A British bank is run with precision
A British home requires nothing less!
Tradition, discipline, and rules must be the tools
Without them – disorder!
Catastrophe!
Anarchy – In short you have a ghastly mess!”

This is an amusing song and you can listen to it here:

The idea of a story or picture book containing a message is not a bad one. It is very much about how the message is presented in the story that will decide whether the book appeals to children or not. After all, children’s writers want to write books that children want to read again and again, not books that their parents think they should read.

My own children have taught me that children run a mile when they think that a book contains an overt moral or message. With this in mind, how then can a parent or caregiver select a book that both teaches and entertains?

Firstly, what the reader will takeaway from the story should be considered. It is not necessary to write out a moral at the end of a tale in the manner of Aesop’s Fables, the message can be subtle, for example, a polluted river that poisons a river or lake and results in all the fish and water creatures dying and the resolution of that predicament by cleaning up the river and preventing future contamination of the water. Children will understand the message without it being spelled out for them.

Some other tips for choosing books that will entertain as well as teach children are as follows:

  1. Make sure that the book is character driven with memorable characters that make the reader care about them. For example in Heidi by Johanna Spyri, the author makes the reader really care about Heidi, Clara and even Grandfather as he changes from a grumpy old man into a tender caregiver. I can remember crying when Heidi goes away from Grandfather to live with Clara in the city;
  2. The language and voice of the story should be suitable for a child and should be interesting and fun. The idea of family members all helping each other and their parents is strongly conveyed in Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree series of books through the expectations of the parents and the behavior of, and awareness of their family dynamics by, the children;
  3. Showing and not telling is another essential ingredient to a good children’s story. I think Roald Dahl is a master and demonstrating exactly where unkind and selfish behavior gets you in life, think of the fate of the two aunts in James and the Giant Peach or the Twits from the book of the same name.

What do you think about children’s books that contain messages? Should they be subtle or overt? Let me know in the comments.

About Robbie Cheadle

IMG_9902

Hello, my name is Robbie, short for Roberta. I am an author with six published children’s picture books in the Sir Chocolate books series for children aged 2 to 9 years old (co-authored with my son, Michael Cheadle), one published middle grade book in the Silly Willy series and one published preteen/young adult fictionalised biography about my mother’s life as a young girl growing up in an English town in Suffolk during World War II called While the Bombs Fell (co-authored with my mother, Elsie Hancy Eaton). All of my children’s book are written under Robbie Cheadle and are published by TSL Publications.

I have recently branched into adult and young adult horror and supernatural writing and, in order to clearly differential my children’s books from my adult writing, I plan to publish these books under Roberta Eaton Cheadle. My first supernatural book published in that name, Through the Nethergate, is now available.

I have two short stories in the horror/supernatural genre included in Dark Visions, a collection of 34 short stories by 27 different authors and edited by award winning author, Dan Alatorre. I also have three short stories in Death Among Us, a collection of short murder mystery stories by 10 different authors and edited by Stephen Bentley. These short stories are all published under Robbie Cheadle.

I have recently published a book of poetry called Open a new door, with fellow South African poet, Kim Blades.

Find Robbie Cheadle

Blog: https://bakeandwrite.co.za/

Blog: robbiesinspiration.wordpress.com

Goodreads: Robbie Cheadle – Goodreads

Twitter: BakeandWrite

Instagram: Robbie Cheadle – Instagram

Facebook: Sir Chocolate Books


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Interview with Shiju Pallithazheth, author of “Katashi Tales”

Shiju Pallithazheth

It pleases me to present a special Saturday interview with a man who has made huge contributions to literary communities world wide. He is the author of the recently released magical realism story collection, Katashi Tales, as well as the founder of Motivatinal Strips social media forum, which promotes the unification of authors and people across the globe. I am honored to have him as my author guest today. Please help me welcome Shiju Pallithazheth.

Kaye: You are not only an author, but a scholar, striving to improve yourself and others through the promotion of world literature. Can you share a little about your journey to becoming an author? When did you discover your love of literature? When did you know you wanted to be an author?

Shiju: To this context, I would like to narrate my favourite penned quote..

‘My friends used to play with toys in their childhood, while I was playing with tiny English alphabets made of plastic. We all grew up together. They became engineers, doctors, accountants etc. and I ended up being a writer.

Guess that quote narrates the answer.

Kaye: Is there anything unusual or unique about your writing process?

Shiju: Yes! I write fast lest I forget where I started… lol

Kaye: What do you feel is the single most important element in a story?

Shiju: Characters that fit aptly in a plot.

Kaye: What is the most unusual or unique thing you have done so far?

Shiju: I have unified writers from 105 countries for what they love doing. Guess that’s unique and interesting.

Kaye: You are the founder of Motivational Strips, a social media forum designed to celebrate humanity and world literature. What do you hope to achieve with this very selective group of authors?

Shiju: The readers are going berserk to identify quality reads as well as writers. The whole agenda of Motivational Strips is literary unification. It started as a crawling baby ten months back. It withstood will power and today it has daily visitors crossing 130 thousand. So that sums up to 4 million visitors a month.

Kaye: Why do they visit the forum ?

Shiju: They love the literary works of the writers, and feel it’s a safe and secure place to network. The forum has achieved commendable milestones within a short time. All credit goes to its members as well as administration. Today it has World Nations Writers Union as well as Union Hispanomundial De Escritores (UHE) as its associates. World Nation Writers Union had Late Dr Koffi Annan ( Former UN General Secretary) as its co president in the past. UHE has former Costa Rica President and Nobel Prize laureate Dr Oscar Arias Sanchez as its present Hon. President. The above mentioned merger speaks volumes on the mission of Motivational Strips. It has affiliated six other qualitative groups in Facebook for writers so that worldwide writers have variation and choice. So we are liberal on writers’ interest. In a nutshell, Motivational Strips keeps writers interest over its own. The forum has novice beginners to many literary icons and award winning authors. Many Nobel Prize Nominees interact and coach the writers for literary progress. It has more than 60K poems and articles penned by writers from more than 105 nations. Now, does that sound small?

Kaye: Motivational Strips honors and encourages those who have made a significant contribution to world literature. I received a Certificate of Honor, myself. What do you feel has been your own greatest contribution which you have made?

Shiju: I have been one among them, that’s the greatest contribution!

When you want to steer a mighty unification process in literature or any other creative fields, you have to know how to strengthen its roots. The leaders can’t stand away and ask the members to keep the roots firm. The ideal leader is one, who has a desire to learn and to teach relevance. Just like how an editor takes responsibility to edit a book to relevant material, a leader has to jointly interact to keep the basics right.

Katashi Tales

Kaye: Your collection of magical realism stories with life lessons, Katashi Tales, is coming out in April. What are some of the life lessons you hope to convey with these tales?

Shiju: Katashi Tales is all about morals. It has a storyline that will take the reader through a journey of magical realism. It ends with realities and values to cherish in life. It has varied forms of narration to keep away monotony, as well as expectations. The expectation level of the reader goes up as the chapters progress. The reason why the expectation level goes up is because of the way the stories have been placed. It gives exposure to the reader in meeting different characters and feeling the ambiance in unknown places. Many new places one has never heard of or read about in life will be revealed in the plot. The book speaks for itself. Each of the fifteen stories teaches a different lesson.

Kaye: The stories in Katashi Tales carry with them lessons or morals, similar to western folklore. Do the lessons just unfold as you write the stories, or do you craft the story to fit the lesson?

Shiju: No, it unfolds in unexpected twists and turns in the plot. The story line was never meant or designed with planned thoughts. The characters revealed themselves in my imagination. I felt as if my presence was in the plot, and witnessed them weaving great stories with tiny outlines. It was fun to write those fables. I experienced the feelings and ambiance of the cute characters in the jungle. They were dying to tell their stories. They are adorable innocent characters, that teach us humans, that they have great stories, principles, ethics and morals, as well.

As Katashi Tales is released worldwide, I’m glad to say that, today being second day of its release, the book is already in the No 2 position among best sellers in KOBO.

Kaye: What is the most challenging part for you of writing magical realism?

Shiju: Magical realism is an art in literature that needs great understanding of the readers’ expectation. I feel bringing reality to a fantasy script is the greatest challenge in writing.

Katashi Tales is a typical attempt of magical realism.

Kaye: You write in many genres. What is your favorite type of writing?

Shiju: I do not limit myself to any favourites. Moods and ambiance decide my choice for the season. But humility and interactions has taught me to be a greater learner. I enjoy writing for writers, as well readers. If you go through my posts in Motivational Strips, you will understand the fact, that my favourite is what the writers/readers desire syncs with.

Kaye: What do you enjoy doing when you are not writing?

Shiju: I love researching people’s behaviour, as well mine. Doing a comparison helps a lot in correction of oneself and adaptation to the public mass behavioural patterns.

Kaye: What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment to date?

Shiju: I’m still learning, I feel that’s a great accomplishment in my life.

Kaye: What is the best piece of advice that was ever given to you?

Shiju: ‘Learn to see the good side of people rather than digging their faulty holes to bring out the trash.’ That was my late grandpa’s advice. I cherish it close to my heart.

Kaye: What is something most of your readers would never guess about you?

Shiju: I’m a busy corporate executive and do rob myself of sleep to promote writers in Motivational Strips, as well affiliates, because of my love for literature.

Kaye: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Shiju: Observe, interact and write. Mistakes are bound to happen as well as success. Take them both in positive spirit. Don’t sell your soul, you can sell your writings though.

I want to thank Shiju for sharing with us today. He’s a man who has done some impressive things for the literary world and the human world, as well, perhaps. Katashi Tales sounds like a wonderful book filled with delightful and meaningful stories. You can learn more about Shiju Pallithazheth or get your copy of Katashi Tales at the following links.

MOTIVATIONAL STRIPS: https://www.facebook.com/groups/252154565336217

AUTHOR PAGE: https://www.amazon.com/MR-Shiju-H.-Pallithazheth/e/B07QQZDS86

AMAZON UNIVERSAL LINK: http://Author.to/Katashitales

KATASHI TALES KINDLE: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07QPVCNGC

KATASHI TALES PAPERBACK: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1094684120

                                                        https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1094684120

KOBO: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/katashi-tales

BARNES & NOBLE: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/books/1131274084


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Interview with fantasy author Laurel McHargue

Georgetown Christmas Fair 2018

I’m talking today with fantasy author Laurel McHargue, a woman with a lot of energy.  She’s written eight books including her Waterwight fantasy series and an adult fairytale, The Hare, Raising Truth, she hosts her own podcast, Alligator Preserves, is a former teacher and active community member, networks and promotes her works online, and finds time attend writing events for face to face interactions with her fans and potential new readers, as well as other authors. Even through email the positive energy radiates from this author. I could give you a lengthy fanfare on how impressed I am with this lady, but I think it’s better to let you see for yourselves. So, without further ado, please welcome Laurel Mchargue.


Kaye: Would you talk about your author’s journey? How did you come to come to be a writer?

Laurel: When I was quite young, I learned I could get attention by telling stories. As the fourth of five girls, I was low on the proverbial totem pole when it came to feeling important, so I had to be creative. I think my wild dreams helped, though eventually, my parents would roll their eyes when I’d come down in the morning with an “unbelievable” dream I’d just have to share. Who knew a dream would launch my first fantasy series? I didn’t then, but hey, I was just a kid!

Fast forward through a lifetime of unique experiences that people were curious about—I was frequently told, “You should really write about that!”—and I finally made the decision to make writing my career. I always did well in classes that required writing, and there were teachers along the way who encouraged me greatly.

I think I always knew I’d write stories someday, but until I made the commitment, it was always a “someday” kind of dream.

Kaye: What can you tell me about your YA fantasy series, Waterwight, and specifically about your Waterwight Breathe which will be released on March 15th?

Laurel: Waterwight started with a dream in which I was running away from bad guys through a dilapidated town, and I came up against a large body of water. The only way across it was to fly, and so I flew. Halfway across, however, I doubted my ability to make it to the other side and started to fall. A flying frog appeared and said, “Grab hold!” and I grasped his leg. He got me to the other side and then died in my arms. The dream had other elements I was able to use in my story as well. Anyway, I shared the dream with my author friend Carol Bellhouse (because I wasn’t living at home anymore!) and she told me I needed to write a story around it.

At the time, I’d never written fantasy, and the thought of turning a dream into a story thrilled and terrified me! Over the course of a year my story unfolded chapter by chapter, and by the time I got to the end, I wasn’t ready to leave my characters. I knew there was more for them to do, and there were questions I needed to answer. So, Waterwight Flux answers questions, develops characters, and sets up more challenges for Celeste, the orphaned protagonist.

I chose to write Waterwight Breathe, the final book, in first person present tense perspective after reading The Hunger Games. I love the immediacy of the thoughts and actions, and having the last book narrated by the protagonist seemed like the perfect way to end the series. I know it’s unconventional to have different points of view in the same series, but my life decisions have frequently been unconventional, and I have no regrets!

Waterwight BreatheWaterwight Breathe is available on March 15th, and it might be my favorite work yet. I couldn’t wait to get to the ending, the only part of the book I actually planned!

Kaye: You received three CIPA EVVY awards for the first book in the series. That’s quite an accomplishment. What is it about this book that makes it EVVY Award worthy?

Laurel: The CIPA EVVY awards are highly competitive, and each book is evaluated with a rubric—not against other submissions. The judges look at everything from cover design to editing to plot and character development. Waterwight is a fantasy adventure with mythical and mystical elements and a female protagonist; it received praise from Kirkus Reviews and many readers. I’d like to think those readers and the EVVY Awards judges felt compelled to keep reading at the end of each chapter. I had fun ending most of my chapters with cliffhangers!

The first book is also divided into three parts, so readers get to see what’s happening from different perspectives in each part. As a bonus, and because I’m a former English teacher, I added a synonym glossary and questions for discussion in the back of each book in the series. I don’t dumb down my prose for YA readers.

I used 99designs.com for my cover design and couldn’t be happier! The same artist created my covers for all three books in the series. Also, I paid a professional proofreader to ensure there weren’t any annoying typos or misspellings.

Kaye: Your novel Miss? is based on your own experience as a first-year teacher and earned the IndieReader Approved Award. Tell me about this book.

Laurel: I’m incredibly fortunate to have friends who are authors too. In 2012, one of those friends, Stephanie Spong, challenged me to do NaNoWriMo with her. I had never heard of such a beast! Well, being the competitive individual I’ve been told I am, I looked into it, and after thinking the 30-day personal challenge was ludicrous, I signed up on October 31st!

This was about six years after my first year of teaching 7th grade English in a doomed middle school. As a resigned Army Major, I honestly thought teaching 7th grade Language Arts would be a breeze. Oh…Em…Gee! I was very wrong.

Because I couldn’t believe what I was experiencing each day, at the end of the day I’d create a bullet-point list of everything that happened. I walked into NaNoWriMo with a year’s worth of those bullet points and had all the material I needed to write my first novel.

I remember telling my students, “Someday, I’m going to write a book about you all!” I said it as a humorous threat, and every class would be filled with hands going up and exclamations of, “Oh, Miss! Can I be in it?”

Although I couldn’t put all 130 students in “Miss?”, I meshed together many of them and included actual events from that year. I say it’s “loosely fictionalized” because of that, and because I added some romance and a scary situation that didn’t actually happen, but could have.

Kaye: Could you talk about your adult fairytale, The Hare, Raising Truth?

Laurel: The same friend who challenged me to NaNoWriMo challenged me to a 3-Day Novel Writing Contest! Stephanie Spong discovered the contest and really wanted to do it, so what choice did I have? (smiley face).

I sent my husband away for Labor Day Weekend (official contest dates), stocked my house with food and beverages, and set up little workout stations around the house. Stephanie came to my house ready to write for 72 hours and we agreed on rules: She could have the dining room, I had the “Red room” (that may have influenced my writing!), and no talking unless we happened to bump into one another in the kitchen.

We were very good girls!

As I enjoy challenging myself with different genres (and contests with crazy time limits), I decided to try something completely different for this contest. “I’m going to write it in 2nd person perspective,” I told Stephanie, and she warned me about the difficulty. Bonus, I thought. I also thought I’d write something light and funny.

Something happened, however, when I heard Rod Serling’s voice from The Twilight Zone in my head (in the Red room). My story turned darkly comedic quite fast, and there was nothing I could do about it . . . I had to see where it would take me.

I completed The Hare, Raising Truth—a Grimm’s Fairy Tale/Twilight Zone mashup—in about 38 hours. It’s novella length, and it was an absolute blast to write. My husband read it when he returned from his banishment and said it’s the best thing I’ve written so far, and I’ve had many people ask, “How did you get into the head of a horny teenage boy so well?”

Well…it wasn’t that difficult!

Kaye: You have a podcast called Alligator Preserves. What is that about?

Laurel: I started my podcast Alligator Preserves—which is about storytelling and the human condition—for several reasons. I wanted to be able to narrate my own books, so my husband set me up with the equipment I’d need to do that (even after I banished him that Labor Day weekend!). Also, friends had suggested that many of my blog posts should be recorded, since blog posts tend to get buried and lost once they’re posted. I wanted to be able to “tell” stories as well as write them.

When I started recording, I realized I had a great set-up for interviewing other people who’ve “done things” too, so I started asking racers and Reiki practitioners and authors and challenge seekers if they’d like to share their stories. The response was overwhelming, and now I have a hard time figuring out how to fit them all into my own schedule while still having time to do my writing.

Recently, I’ve gone to a pay-for-service model for anyone with a book or product they’d like to promote. Creating a podcast with another person is a lot of work. I value the time I spend reading and researching (prior to the interview) and editing and posting to social media (post recording). I provide all the links to the audio and video I create to my interviewee for use on their social media as well. For authors, it’s another plank to add to their author platform!

Kaye: What is the biggest challenge of writing fantasy?

Laurel: I can visualize scenes in my head so clearly, and most of them are fast-paced. The challenge is in slowing down my writing to help readers see what I’m seeing. Also, sometimes my writing is dream-like, and I have to find ways to convey that not-quite-real feeling.

That’s how multiple drafts help. I may blast through several chapters, totally believing that I’m conveying what my mind is seeing, and then I’ll have someone read them and they’ll say, “Huh? What just happened here? I don’t get it”!

My challenge is usually in adding more to a scene rather than deleting. There’s always more an author can do to make their writing sing more clearly!

Kaye: What’s the most fun part of writing for you?

Laurel: I think many authors might say that writing “The End” upon completing a project is the most fun, and I won’t lie—a happy dance always follows—but really, the fun is in the little surprises that happen along the way. It’s the unexpected character that pops into my head while I’m walking the dog or the funny thing a character will say. I’m more of a “pantser” than a “planner,” so I’m surprised all the time!

2019 DPCC card

Sharing my work and having a fan say, “Wow! I loved that!” is another obvious fun part, but that’s after the writing is published. I brought my work to the 2018 Denver Comic Con and was blown away by the interaction I experienced with readers. I’ll attend the 2019 Denver Pop Culture Con (new name) this year with my completed trilogy and a new graphic novel! Now, that will be fun!

Kaye: Fantasy isn’t the only genre that you write in, and you hope to explore as many genres as possible throughout your writing career. What is your favorite genre to date?

Laurel: I’m horrible when it comes to “what’s your favorite” questions, but I’d have to say that I’m really enjoying short stories right now. I’ve entered several “flash fiction” contests with very short time limits, and being able to complete a project in a week or less exhilarates me!

I’m putting together a short story collection now. I’ve promised my Patreon patrons a new short story every month (which I narrate on my podcast Alligator Preserves) and when I’ve created enough, I’ll publish them and acknowledge my partons.

That said, many of my fans tell me they love my nonfiction blog posts. Once Waterwight Breathe is launched, my next big project will be a nonfiction piece based on my dad’s WWII letters. I hope to have a draft completed by the end of 2019!

Kaye: Where does your inspiration come from?

As Neil Gaiman said when asked where he got his ideas, “I make them up  . . . out of my head.” (http://www.neilgaiman.com/Cool_Stuff/Essays/Essays_By_Neil/Where_do_you_get_your_ideas%253F). But how does inspiration get into my head? It gets there from every sensory experience throughout my days and from the Technicolor dreams I’ve had since I was a child. Someone said dreams are your brain’s way of dealing with all the things bombarding your senses during the day, and when I remember my dreams, I can often link them to something that has happened, or something that’s been “on my mind.”

Real people and creatures inspire my characters as much as imaginary ones (and who says the bizarre creatures in my dreams aren’t “real”?). Old Man Massive, the mountain spirit in my Waterwight trilogy, was inspired by an outcropping of stone on Mt. Massive that looks like an old, bearded man. Names and superpowers were inspired by real people I’ve known or met while writing the series. Zoya, my tragic octopus, was inspired by a paddleboarding experience on Twin Lakes, as was Noor, my fire-breathing dragonfly. The whole series started with a crazy dream I shared with a friend. I see and find inspiration all around me.

People have asked me where I get my imagination from, and all I can say is that it must be a gift from the universe! It’s certainly not a “thing” you can buy, and I’m not even sure it’s a “thing” you can learn. I consider myself quite fortunate that I was born with an imaginative brain.

2019_Me and RangerKaye: What do you do when you’re not writing?

Laurel: When I’m not writing, I’m thinking about writing or I’m marketing my writing (sure wish I could clone myself for that task) or I’m reading or I’m recording a podcast episode or I’m cooking a yummy dinner or I’m brushing a pillow’s worth of hair from my German Shepherd or I’m cleaning out my sock drawer (because, where do all those socks come from?) or I’m swimming (several mornings per week, and not very fast) or I’m chatting with my friends or with one of my four sisters or I’m worrying about my sons (because I’m a mother) or I’m wondering how the day has passed so quickly. And other things, too.

Kaye: Hunting for Red Meat is a collection of memoir-style essays based on your own adventures hunting elk. When did you get the idea to make them a published collection?

Laurel: Several friends have told me how much they enjoy my blog posts, and one of them, Erin Sue Grantham (who also hunts), suggested I put them into a book. When I looked at putting them all in a book, I was overwhelmed by how many stories I had, and realized a book containing them all would be too big. So I thought about segregating them into topic areas.

After three years of hunting (and never filling a tag), I had plenty of hunting blog posts, so I decided to start there. Our oldest son, Nick, suggested it would be a “blook” a blog book, and I had fun coming up with the title.

I really thought I’d have a lot more sales by now with a title starting with “Hunt for Red…,” but alas, no. I honestly think many readers would enjoy it as it’s far more of an appreciation of the majesty of the wild outdoors than it is about hunting. I share my awe and my suffering, my adrenaline and my poetic moments.

My next “Blook” will probably be about our camping adventures.

Kaye: You have also published two books on Haiku. Do you have a special love for that poetry form? What is it that draws you to it?

Laurel: I love Haiku because—like a short story—they finish quickly. You have only seventeen syllables to play with, and it’s like completing a puzzle. Five-seven-five. That’s it.

Teaching grades 7-12 also gave me an appreciation for Haiku. When the word “poetry” comes from a teacher’s mouth, it’s generally followed by groans. Once a student learns how to count out syllables, though, and fit them into a “puzzle,” or a “math challenge,” for those more inclined toward that side of the brain, poetry suddenly becomes fun.

I was always amazed by the final products my students would create, boys as well as girls, and what fun it was to watch them tap on desktops or count on fingers while figuring out the syllabic pattern.

Haikus Can Amuse: 366 Haiku Starters “happened” after I dropped my cell phone into the ocean. Cell phones don’t like salt water. Anyway, I had a few weeks to kill before getting a new phone (I was away on vacation when it happened), and it was Leap Year, so I figured, why not come up with 366 first lines! I put that together as a gift journal for people who like filling in blanks and journaling just a little bit.

Hai CLASS ku is a spinoff of my cell-phone-debacle book, and it’s designed as a classroom workbook with a semester’s worth of haiku first lines (90) and space to draw a sketch and write a bit about inspiration. It’s also a great tool for substitute teachers.

Kaye: Which author or poet, dead or alive, would you love to have lunch with? Why?

Laurel: Dead? Steinbeck. Why? Because I love his writing. Alive? Margaret Atwood. Why? Because I love her writing. So many tremendous authors, so, so, so little life to experience them all.

I want to thank Laurel for joining me and sharing a little about experiences and her work. You can learn more about both at the links below.

SoundCloud (Alligator Preserves podcast): https://soundcloud.com/user-564361489

iTunes link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/alligator-preserves/id1337322865?mt=2

Stitcher permanent show link: http://www.stitcher.com/s?fid=165314&refid=stpr

(this link is optimized for mobile and Twitter posts)

Amazon Author page: https://www.amazon.com/Laurel-McHargue/e/B00INB9OO6

Blog link: http://leadvillelaurel.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LeadvilleLaurel

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LeadvilleLaurel

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/leadvillelaurel/

LinkedIn: Laurel (Bernier) McHargue


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“A Twist of Fate”: A short story collection of legends in the making

a twist of fate

A Twist of Fate: A Collection of 11 Twisted Fairy Tales is a delightful collection of short fiction which plays off of the fairy tales of yore to create a collection of charming fairy tales, in both traditional and contemporary styles, that entertains and enthralls. Filled with works from a plethora of talent, this collection may change the way we look at fairy tales.

All of these stories were quite enjoyable, but I’ll just give you some highlights of my favorites. Did you ever wonder about the role the peas played in The Princess and the Pea? Nanea Knott shares her ideas about this in The Princess Tests. K. Matt claims that Rampage is a twist on Rapunzel, but I’d venture to say she borrowed a bit from Medusa as I read this monstrosly hairy tale. Peter, Peter, by Chandra Truelove Fry presents a very twisted take on Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater that will deter even the strongest hearts from eating pumpkin ever again. Damian Connolly does a smashing job of taking Sleeping Beauty into the Indian jungles in The Lost City, and you’ll be surprised by what happens when the princess is awakened.

Fiction Atlas Press could have done a better job with proofreading, as I found typos throughout, ingbut overall I found found this collection of twisted tales to be quite engaging. I give A Twist of Fate five quills.

five-quills3

 

Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.