Friday, June 26, 2020

Interview with Marcy Pusey about Bath Time Magic (According to Corban)

Last month while scrolling through my newsfeed, I discovered that our member, Marcy Pusey, had a new book out. How did I not know this?  Yay, Marcy!!! And…

…here it is.
book cover Bath Time Magic by Marcy Pusey, illustr. Yaroslava Yoshchenko
© Miramare Ponte Press

Making his second appearance since his best-selling debut in According to Corban, the imaginative Corban is at it again! 

In Bath Time Magic, Corban must fool his parents into believing he hates baths to keep them from learning his secret: his tub is magical. Join him on a bath time adventure as his magical tub plops him into shark-infested seas, raging rivers and waterfalls, and favorite games with his ocean friends. But when the ocean swirls and twirls a cyclone, will Corbin escape to make it back to his bathroom before mom shows up?

A magical tub? What a great concept for a book. Shark-infested seas? A cyclone!!! How exciting. I needed to know more and interviewed Marcy. Here are her answers to my questions.

Q: Yay, Corban is back! How did you get the idea for a tub time book? Was this inspired by the REAL Corban?

A: Corban is back! I actually wrote these two books fairly close together, but it took me a while to prioritize this one for publishing. Suddenly, the time was right. Just like According to Corban, this follow-up relies in part on my experiences as a mama and watching the actual Corban get lost in his own world of play. As most parents experience, kids fight the bath until they're in it. Then it's hard to get them out! One day it struck me--What if all this fighting to get in is a trick! What if Corban knows something I don't know about this tub and he's trying to keep me off the trail. Thus became Bath Time Magic. I should add that Corban's mama loves baths so the reality of mom hogging the tub is a legit concern.

Q: I got a kick out of this line in your book: "But mooooooooooooooooooom! I don't need a bath. I'll get wrinkly. I'm too young to be wrinkly."  First of all, that is such a typical statement for a kid. Plus, when I was a kid, I loved baths but hated the way my fingertips got all wrinkly. How do you come up with realistic dialogue?  Corban? Observing other kids?

A: You know, I think we all still have access to our kid-selves. Like you said, this line immediately took you back to a very child-like memory of hating to be wrinkly. It's in us to remember. So in some ways, when I write good realistic dialogue, I'm both pulling from what I actually remember thinking as a child, in addition to being a good observer of kids around me. This line specifically was from my own childhood experience! I remember telling my mom that I was too young to be wrinkly and crying real tears. I actually thought I was aging. She laughed so hard. Her reaction is probably why the memory has stuck with me.

Q: The illustrations are adorable. Only after I look closely at the cover, did I notice that this book has a different illustrator than According to Corban (book 1).  What was it like working with a new illustrator?

A: This is one of my favorite parts of working with illustrators, but also one of the greatest challenges. Many of the illustrators I work with are very good artists, but haven't been given a chance to work on a full book yet. I've had illustrators from all around the world, some even in developing countries, where the US dollar goes a lot further. I love investing in other gifted humans and helping them live from their talent. The downside of that is I eventually can't afford them! This is the case with Daniella from book one. I believe According to Corban was her first book. I paid her less than $1000 (because that was my budget). Then I promoted the heck out of her once the book was published: school visits, writers I coach, webinars... and she's now able to charge upwards of $3k per book project and moved from her native country to London! I love that I got to be a piece of her development... but now she's out of my price range! So I had to find someone who could replicate her work (which feels so offensive to me because I value each person's unique style). But Yarolsava was not only willing but so capable. She was incredible to work with. And she still found ways of adding her own creative touch, which I love. And like with Daniela, I've been able to support and promote her and she now has more projects! (Hopefully she'll stay affordable for me. HA!) I've worked with five illustrators now and love them all. I feel like we're bffs once we're done.

Q: What do you want the reader to take away from your book?

A: My first hope is that the little twist in the illustration at the end will 1. be noticed and 2. leave them asking: "Was it his imagination or was it really magic?" THEN, I want kids to suddenly want to take a bath to see if their tub is magic, too. (*spoiler alert- it is!*). Beyond that, my underlying hope when I write for children or adults is a sense of permission to play or to ask hard questions in a safe place--to see other kids doing things their little hearts long to do or wonder about or ask about. This is a sillier book than some of my others, but I think it still creates space for kids to believe good in their imagination and feel free to get lost in it. And, to maybe want to take baths more regularly!

Q: If you had a magic bath tub, where do you wish it would take you?

A: Oh man, this would be amazing. One of my dreams lately (and something I've done only once briefly) is to swim with sea turtles. I would LOVE to be dropped off right where they're playing and just float around soaking up their beauty. If a dolphin wanted to come say hi, I'd be totally fine with that, too. (This is why there's a turtle in the scene--I had her add it so I could live vicariously through Corban!)

Q: Do you have a favorite page or spread and why?

A: Other than the very last scene which leaves a little surprise twist in the tub, I love the spread with Mom pulling the plug on one side, textless, and the ocean beginning to swirl into a vortex on the other side with Corban in his boat noticing the shift in the sea. I love the dance between art and text and often plan to need both in order for the story to be fully understood. I got to play with that in this scene. It just makes me smile so big!

Q: How did you choose your publishing route?

A: This is a great question! The first seven years of my publishing career was exclusively traditional publishing. I learned so much. They were essential for what I do now. About four and a half years ago, I was feeling a bit of a crisis in vocation. I'd had a number of editors and agents really love my work, and acquisition teams take my manuscripts on... but then maybe 14/15 team members would approve and one wouldn't, and I'd be back to square one. Or as in the case at one of our Europolitan conferences, my manuscript was upheld by the agents in a workshop as model writing and an example to follow, but even so didn't choose to represent me. So I came to realize that I had learned the craft of writing quite well, but it takes more than that to get published traditionally. I'd sold a couple books to a small press, but otherwise, didn't have much to show in print for those years. A course called Self Publishing School crossed my path one day. At the time, it was exclusively for adult nonfiction, but I was hungry to see if I could learn how to publish myself, so I joined. I was the only children's writer in the program! I went ahead and followed the course as it was designed and wrote Reclaiming Hope: Overcoming the Challenges of Parenting Foster and Adopted Children. This became an immediate best-seller and landed me on a number of stages as a keynote speaker. I literally never saw that coming. Since then, I've published twelve books, eight for children, with a YA and another Adult Nonfiction coming out this year as well. And I love it. From the time I decide to publish a book, I can do it in three months instead of two to three years. I'm not sharing my royalties with anyone but the book printer or amazon, so I make more money. And honestly, most people don't care how the book was published if it's good. I do school visits, library readings, webinars, you name it. I coach writers wanting to publish. I edit children's books with my dear friend and longtime SCBWI member, Bethany Telles. I have all of the creative control, which I also love. I get fan mail from readers! I've taken everything I learned in my first seven years and applied it to high-quality self-publishing in these last four years, building that into other writers as well. I now contract as a coach with Self Publishing School and have designed a course for children's writers and coach nearly all of the kidlit writers who come through our doors. I'm living my dream!

Thanks for sharing your journey with us, Marcy.  You've accomplished so much. Keeping living the dream.

Marcy is the wife of an artist and the mother of four, but she’s also tossed pizzas for a pizzeria, acted and sang in a musical, advocated for families with special needs, made appearances in a few movies, and mimed with balloon animals at the Halifax Busker Festival. Marcy is also a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor and Certified Trauma Practitioner, speaker, coach, and the best-selling author of books for adults and for children. She does her best writing on retreats with a nearby hot-tub, in any castle, within view of the sea, or in her cozy home in the Black Forest of Germany. Marcy loves the smiles and giggles of kids who see themselves in her pages and the tearful nods of adults who realize they’re not alone by her words.

Amazon link:

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Interview with Open Fire author Amber Lough

It's always exciting when one of our members has a book published. When I found out that Amber Lough's third YA novel was being released, I was so happy for her.
Here is the blurb for Open Fire:
It’s 1917 in Russia and years of war with Germany have turned seventeen-year-old Katya’s life upside-down. Soldiers like Katya’s brother are deserting in droves, while food shortages on the home front push people to the brink of revolution. Working at a munitions factory seems like the most Katya can do to serve her country—until the government begins recruiting young women for an all-female army battalion. Hoping to help defeat the Germans, Katya enlists. Training with other brave women in her unit, she finds camaraderie and a deep sense of purpose. But when the women’s battalion heads to the front, Katya confronts the atrocities of war and must decide what she truly stands for.

Doesn't that sound like a dramatic page-turner? And look at this awesome cover!

Of course, I had to congratulate Amber and find out more. Here are my questions and Amber's responses. 

Where did you get the idea for this book? 

I was working on a World War 1/Russian Revolution novel that was floundering, and then I heard about the Women’s Battalion of Death from a friend in Russia and was shocked to the core. I’d taken Russian history courses in college and had never heard of these women! I knew immediately it was the story I needed to write. 

I'd never heard of the Women's Battalion of Death either. What great inspiration for a historical fiction novel. Sometimes one little "seed" (or fact) can "grow" into a book. But that is a process that takes time. How long did this book take from conception to publication? 

About 3 years. I don’t even know how many drafts, to be honest. 

The School Library Journal gave Open Fire a good review ending with “Verdict: A lesser-explore time period is given a compelling and interesting narrative through well-developed characters. Give to readers who enjoy historical fiction and strong female characters.”  If you could describe your main character, Katja, with three or four adjectives, what would they be? 

Katya is driven, intuitive, thoughtful, and loyal. 

I noticed some similarities between you and Katja. You grew up the daughter of a Naval Officer, and Katja is also the daughter of an officer. You joined the U.S. Air Force, becoming a Lieutenant, continued on to Intelligence training, and wound up an active participant in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Katja enlists in the military and becomes a member of the all-female army battalion. How did your experiences help you develop Katja into a realistic character? 

There are several moments in the book that mirror my own experiences. Some of her military training is what I went through, although altered for the era and location. One of my readers recently commented that he was getting flashbacks to his own military training when he read the book, which I took as a compliment. ;-) But most of all, I tried to show the sense of helplessness, of being adrift in a storm, that one feels when at war as well as the disillusion I felt both during and after my deployment. 

Well, that makes sense that your own experience would help you portray military training in a genuine way. But your last sentence regarding feelings, I think, is key. You not only want the reader to understand all these situations Katja faces but also how they affect her. By conveying those feelings, the reader can connect and have an emotional response. And who hasn't at one time felt helpless or torn in some way?

Let’s focus a bit on the planning stages and craft of writing.

I read an interview on the publisher’s website and learned that you actually visited Russia to do research for this book. Did the trip go as planned? Was it easy or challenging to find the information you needed? Tell us a bit about it. 

It went MOSTLY as planned. The snow storm wasn’t anticipated, but it made everything more beautiful. We were able to visit all of the museums I’d planned to see, and it truly did help me when I went back to revise the novel. I took hundreds of photos of objects in glass cases that I wasn’t able to find online. For example, the St. George’s Cross, given for valor on the battle field, was always photographed in black and white. When I saw some in the case, I was surprised to find it was orange and black. Nowhere had the colors been described. It made everything more real for me, which I hope makes the story more realistic to readers. 

Orange and black? How about that! It appears that visiting Russia gave you more details and inspiration.  (there you go writers...another good reason to travel the world.) 

And speaking of the world...

One of your reviews on Goodreads says “I didn’t want to leave the world she created.” Let’s talk about world-building. How did you go about this for a historical fiction novel? How did that process differ from world-building for your previous books The Fire Wish and The BlindWish which are fantasy? Was there any difference? 

World building doesn’t change fundamentally from fantasy novels to historical fiction. The foundation is the same because, in both cases, the writer is trying to immerse the reader in a world they’ve never experienced before. The magic is in the descriptive details, but the writer needs to make sure everything is viewed through the lens of the character. It’s a tricky thing, describing something that is normal to the character without taking a step away from the story. For example, I wouldn’t take specific note of a horse-drawn taxi when describing it in the story. My character would take about as much notice of it as we would a yellow cab. But the description still needs to be there for the reader, so it has to be threaded it through prose or dialogue that would naturally occur. It’s the same for fantasy. I must say, though, that world building is my favorite part of writing. 

What do you want readers to take away from Open Fire? 

I want readers to know that it’s ok, when in the midst of a crisis, not to know all the answers. It’s ok to be unsure of which side you should take—just listen to yourself, take it step by step. And when something terrifying happens, you are surely strong enough to face it. 

That is a great message for all. 
Is there anything else you'd like to say about the book, writing it, or about yourself? 

I write because I want to find a connection with others, to show what I observe. But I also write because it’s what centers me—even when the writing is hard and I know what I’ve written will need to be revised a dozen times more. This book, Open Fire, was a huge challenge for me to write. I had to face some personal demons I’d been carrying around with me since my time in the military. I also had to find the balance between story and historical fact. Thankfully, I was obsessively driven to write this story. I hope it inspires people to learn more about this period of time and of women’s military history. 

I hope so, too, Amber. Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can connect with Amber at the following sites:                                                  

Twitter: @amberlough

Insta: amberlough