A STORY IS BEING BORN
ENVISIONING THE CHARACTERS
Today’s author Interview is with Edith M. Hemingway, author of Road to Tater Hill. I met Edith aka Edie at an SCBWI event in October. Edie was our teacher for the day. She talked about many great things especially settings and what makes them great. I enjoyed every second of Edie’s mini workshops and knew immediately I wanted to purchase her book.
But, I couldn’t just buy one. I needed a second copy to give to my readers (yes that would be you). So, sit back and read another great interview and don’t forget to leave a comment at the end so you can be entered for a chance to win a signed copy of Road to Tater Hill.
Hi Edie, how are you today?
Thank you for stopping by Writing Like Crazy.
It’s my pleasure.
Edie or would you rather we call you Edith?
All my friends call me Edie.
Can you tell me when you fell in love with writing?
I had a wonderful fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Virginia Ormsby, who was a published children’s book author. She read her manuscripts to our class before sending them off to her editor, and she set aside quiet writing time after lunch everyday. I won a creative writing contest that year and decided some day I would be a published author. I’ve had other teachers who have inspired me since then, but Mrs. Ormsby was the one who planted the seed.
When did you decide that you wanted to pursue writing professionally?
As I mentioned above, I first decided to pursue writing back in fourth grade, but for many years it took a backseat in my life. I got back to writing in my 30s when I had young children at home. My first co-authored book, Broken Drum, was started in 1989 and published in 1996. I’ve been writing steadily ever since.
If I remember correctly, I think you mentioned that you met your agent at a writer’s conference. Can you please tell us a little bit about this meeting and how it set things into motion?
Actually, it was my editor at Delacorte Press/Random House, Michelle Poploff, whom I met at a SCBWI conference in Maryland. She critiqued the first 10 pages of Tater Hill (my working title at the time) and asked me to send her the entire manuscript when I finished it. Nearly a year later I sent her the completed manuscript and after several telephone discussions about revisions, she offered me a contract. I never submitted it elsewhere. It was one of those amazing contacts that aspiring authors dream about.
Okay, let’s get to Road to Tater Hill. This book deals with a young girl named Annie who starts off being excited about the birth of a new sibling but ends up having to come to terms with the baby’s death.
In the beginning of the book you write in memory of my baby sister Kate. Did your experience with losing your sister (I’m truly sorry for the loss) inspire this story?
Yes, that experience during the summer I turned eleven left a lasting emotional impact on my life. Near the start of my MFA program, I had an assignment to write about an emotional event in my childhood. The resulting ten-page memoir later became the basis for Road to Tater Hill, which includes many events from my childhood (not all experienced during that same summer) as well as some fictionalized events and fictional characters. I realized that a plot had to involve more than just my grief over the loss of my baby sister.
Can you tell us a little bit about Annie’s character?
Annie began very much as I was at that age, but when I was several chapters into the book, my faculty mentor in the MFA program suggested I change from first person POV to third person in order to give myself a little distance from my character and the emotional events. This advice allowed Annie to become a character in her own right, and she became a bolder, more adventurous girl than I was–much more interesting, I think. It wasn’t until I was in my final round of revisions with my editor that I had the idea to switch back to first person POV in order to dig a little deeper into Annie’s emotions. I’m glad I did.
In the mini class I took with you, you passed around a rock and had each of us hold it. Annie is attached to her rock in this story. How did the idea of the rock baby come to you?
The idea for the rock baby actually evolved from the scene I was writing. It’s amazing how characters take on lives of their own the better you get to know them, and sometimes do things you don’t plan or expect. The rock baby became a tangible means for Annie to deal with the loss of her baby sister and was very much a part of the healing process. Plus, I have to admit I love rocks–maybe I was a geologist in another life.
I love that Annie journals throughout the book. Do you journal?
I have journaled on and off throughout my life–mainly when traveling or when going through a difficult or unusual time. I have used those journals as a source for descriptive details of different settings and emotional situations for a number of different stories. I still have the journal I kept when I was 14 and traveling through Europe with my parents and brother. It was actually a school asignment to keep the journal since I was out of school for 6 weeks. I’m amazed at the details I included in those daily entries, and it’s fun to look back at that exciting time in my life.
There are a lot of memorable characters in this book, especially Miss Eliza. Would you mind telling my readers a little about the mountain lady?
Miss Eliza is the one truly fictional character in Road to Tater Hill, but she has some of the heartwarming characteristics of a lovely mountain woman, who was a dear friend of my grandmother. That friend was a weaver, and I used to sit in her home and watch (and listen to) her working away at her loom. I also wanted to incorporate more of the Appalachian mountain heritage into Miss Eliza’s character, so as I got to know her better, I realized that she also played the dulcimer (better known as the “hog fiddle” in the book). I won’t tell any more about Miss Eliza’s character because I want the readers to learn her story as the book unfolds.
Do you have a favorite character in the book?
Miss Eliza is definitely my favorite character in the book, but Grandpa is a close second and the one truest to life. My grandfather really did waltz with me, just as Grandpa waltzes with Annie in the book.
In your class you spoke about the importance of setting. Can you let my readers know some of the things you do to familiarize yourself with your books settings? You gave great advice that stuck with me.
Setting is very important to me, both as a reader and as a writer. I like to make setting integral to my stories, and I always travel to the places I write about because it’s not enough for me to research online or in books. I want to smell the smells, taste the food, walk the roads and paths, touch the trees, meet the poeple, listen to the way they talk, and so on. I always advise writers to look at setting through the eyes of their characters, look for specific details that their characters would notice, and let the emotions of their characters help dictate how they react to the setting.
I also remember talking about the cover in your class. What was your first impression of the book’s cover?
Many people think that authors have a say in the design of their book covers. In most cases, they do not.
However, my editor did ask me for my thoughts, and I wanted it to reflect Annie’s love of the mountains and the creek. I also hoped that the cover would not show Annie’s face because I like readers to come up with their own image of what they think the main character looks like. So my first impression was that I loved the picture of Annie sitting on the rock by the creek, but I was disappointed that it showed her face. However, I have come to love the cover, and I know the art director read the book and worked very hard to find a young girl who fit Annie’s description very well!
Road to Tater Hill won a Parent’s Choice award. Can you tell us how you felt when you received notification that your book won such a great award?
I was very excited about this honor and happy to know that not only the intended audience of 9 to 12-year-olds liked the book, but also parents and other adults of all ages. I think part of the draw is the intergenerational plot. A school in Boone, North Carolina (the actual setting of the book) used Road to Tater Hill as their family reading project last year, and families (including children, parents, and grandparents) read the book together and then came to a group discussion that I led at the end of the 5-week project.
Congratulations, that’s a huge accomplishment.
What is the biggest emotion readers of Road to Tater Hill walk away with?
Oh my, that’s a hard one to answer. I know there’s grief involved, but overall I think of the book as a story of healing and, ultimately, of hope. One of the nicest reviews the book received was written by a 13-year-old girl for Stone Soup magazine. This is how she described it: “Road to Tater Hill is a heartwarming, fulfilling story of friendship, family, hope, home and the bumpy road through grief.”
Do you have any upcoming books?
I am working on a book set on an island off the coast of Maine, and I have a number of other story ideas brewing in my head.
In addition to being a successful author, you find time to teach workshops to aspiring authors. How did you begin doing this? Where can my readers find more information about your workshops (which are great)?
I began teaching non-credit creative writing classes at a community college after I graduated from Spalding University’s Master of Fine Arts in Writing program (MFA). When a friend said that my 1930s log
cabin home was the perfect writing retreat, I came up with the idea of teaching writing workshops in my own home. However, in the last few years I’ve been so busy as the Co-Regional Advisor for the MD/DE/WV region of SCBWI that I’ve taken a hiatus from the home workshops. And I have recently joined the MFA faculty at Spalding University. I love the teaching and will be on the faculty at their residency abroad in Ireland this summer.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?Read, read, read!
The best writers were avid readers first. And advice always comes back to the fact that you first have to sit down and write. Once you have that first draft on paper, then the real meat of writing begins. Don’t be too quick to submit your work before it’s been through a number of revisions, and you’ve had some feedback from readers/writers whose comments you trust.
Okay, I like to end my interviews with some fire questions, I hope you’re ready.
1. Do you have a favorite author? Richard Peck, Deborah Wiles, Audrey Couloumbis, Gary D. Schmidt, Katherine Paterson, Patricia MacLachlan to name a few. It’s very difficult for me to narrow it down to one because I’m always finding another good book to read.
2.What is the first book you remember falling in love with?
The Witch of Blackbird Pond
3. Do you have a writing spot? I have a wonderful little writing cabin that my husband built for me in the woods behind my house. I’ll attach a photo.
4. Have you ever written down an idea on something odd? (I once wrote an idea on a matchbook because there was no paper to be found) Well, I’ve definitely jotted notes and ideas on napkins or any little scrap of paper I can find in my purse. I generally try to keep a small notebook with me–especially when I’m traveling, and I’ve emailed notes to myself on my cell phone.
5. Finally, do you have a favorite word? (Mine is Believe) I’d say “connections.” The connections you can make in a writing community are amazing!
Please let my readers know where they can purchase your book. they can find you, blog, twitter, facebook, web page, etc?
My website is www.ediehemingway.com. You can find me on FaceBook, but I’m afraid I don’t spend much time there. I’m a contributor to the One Potato…Ten blog, which is a wonderful group of 10 authors and illustrators found at onepotatoten.blogspot.com.
And you can buy my book through Amazon, Random House, or ask for it at your favorite indie bookstore.
I loved reading through all of your answers and can’t wait to give one lucky reader a signed copy of Road to Tater Hill. Thank you for taking time to chat.
Thank you very much, Maribeth. I’ve enjoyed it!
And you can buy my book through Amazon, Random House, or ask for it at your favorite indie bookstore.
Okay guys, ready, set, comment! It’s as simple that. One person will be drawn randomly. This is a great book (and did I mentioned it’s signed) and if you win it’s free! I hope to see tons of comments. 🙂
UPDATE: I’M LEAVING THIS CONTEST OPENED UNTIL WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 27TH. IN ORDER TO BE ENTERED FOR A CHANCE TO WIN THE SIGNED COPY YOU MUST LEAVE A COMMENT. 🙂
You hear a song for the first time and think, I don’t like this song. You hear it a second time and think, I still don’t like it but I don’t hate it as much as I did the first time I heard it. It plays again and you say to yourself, “Hmm, I’m actually starting to like this song.” By the tenth or so time, you are starting to turn it up. Maybe, you’re even singing the catchy verse that repeats throughout, but still you are not listening to it. Then one day, you stop listening to the music and begin listening to the lyrics and realize the story behind this song is awesome.
Songs have an advantage that books do not. Wouldn’t it be nice, if author’s books got played over and over again until people had no choice but to sit up and listen to the story being told? Yeah, that’s not going to happen which is why it is so important authors engage the reader from the get go. I am currently writing a book that I truly am in love with. I really feel like I have thought outside of the box and created a world that is mine alone. But, if I don’t nail the beginning, I may never get anyone to explore the world that lies deep within the pages. There is no tune that will prelude my words, no beat that will beckon someone’s attention and no melody that will drive the emotion. There are only words, words written by an author wanting to tell a story that someone will remember as good as they remember a favorite song.
If you really want your writing to become something then you have no choice but to persevere. When I began writing, I thought, How hard can this be? Write a few stories, submit to some major publishing houses and instantly become discovered. Ten years later, I look back at my younger self and think, Wow are you naïve. Sure, a few things happened early on that made me think no sweat, but the prize I’m searching for has not yet been found.
I am proud of the recognitions I have received along the way but I still have hopes for more. The goal at this point in my life is to land an agent and see my manuscripts in print. Currently, I have possibilities which completely excite me but if for whatever reason they get denied, I plan on persevering.
For today’s a to z challenge I have decided to list a few of my favorite perseverance quotes. Which was one is your favorite? Do you have one you would like to share?
• “Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after another.” Walter Elliott
• “All great masters are chiefly distinguished by the power of adding a second, a third, and perhaps a fourth step in a continuous line. Many a man has taken the first step. With every additional step you enhance immensely the value of your first.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
• “Success seems to be connected with action. Successful men keep moving. They make mistakes, but they don’t quit.” Conrad Hilton
• “For a righteous man falls seven times, and rises again.” [Proverbs 24:16] Bible
• “In order to get from what was to what will be, you must go through what is.” Anonymous
• “What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight – it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” General Dwight Eisenhower
• “Don’t let life discourage you; everyone who got where he is had to begin where he was.” Richard L. Evans
• “Perseverance is a positive, active characteristic. It is not idly, passively waiting and hoping for some good thing to happen. It gives us hope by helping us realize that the righteous suffer no failure except in giving up and no longer trying. We must never give up, regardless of temptations, frustrations, disappointments, or discouragements.” Joseph P. Wirthlin
• “Defeat is simply a signal to press onward.” Helen Keller
• You may not receive what you hope for today, but tomorrow may bring the reward you weren’t expecting. Keep writing for tomorrow because it will eventually come. Maribeth Graham (aka me)
I’m sure you have done an obstacle course at least once in your lifetime. An obstacle course is defined as a series of challenging physical obstacles an individual or team must perform while being timed.
Today, I present to you an obstacle course for writers. It will be more mentally challenging than physical but you might find it effective. Instead of racing to get done within seconds or minutes, you will be allowed hours, let’s say three to be exact.
Each task will be allotted a time slot of one half hour. I’m sure you will find that in some cases a half hour is not enough but that is what a challenge is all about.
This course will involve reading, brainstorming, writing, editing, visiting and platform building.
Ready, Set, Go!
First 30 Minutes- Read– You can choose to read anything, a favorite book, the newspaper, a magazine (save blogs for later when visiting). Reading for thirty minutes will jump start your brain and hopefully inspire you to write something of your own
Second 30 Minutes-Brainstorm- Start jotting down anything that comes to mind. Random thoughts can become great pieces of work. Write down story ideas, blog topics, favorite words, character descriptions or outlines. Write whatever comes to mind.
Third 30 Minutes- Write- Writing will be different from brainstorming. Now you are going to take those ideas and turn them into something. A half hour is plenty enough time to write a rough draft for a blog, start a new paragraph for an existing manuscript or outline an idea that’s been walking around your mind.
Fourth 30 Minutes- Edit- Take this thirty minutes to edit something entirely different from what you just wrote about. Pull up something that has been sitting in a desk. Looking at it with fresh eyes will allow you to discover errors. Are you in a critique group? This would be a great time to edit a fellow writers work.
Fifth 30 Minutes-Visit– Take a break and surf the web. Stop by your favorite blogs to say hello. Visit an author’s page and let them know what a great job they are doing. Pop into a writer’s chat room and join the conversation.
Sixth 30 Minutes- Platform Building -Now it’s time to get your name out there. Head on over to Twitter and tweet some thoughts. Check your facebook page to see if you can add any updates. Join writer groups. Get yourself known.
Three hours might sound like a long time, but I assure you they will fly by. This obstacle course is sure to exercise your mind.
Is there anything else you would include?
1. Diligence – You must push forward, even when you don’t want to.
2. Determination- Believe in yourself. Trust that others will see the beauty in your written word.
3. Dedication- Once you commit to becoming a writer set aside time each day to hone the craft.
4. Drive – A writer with drive and passion will eventually get noticed.
5. Desolation- Find solitude so you can create without interruptions.
6. Daily Routines- Writing should be done every day. If you set a routine, you will be less likely to break it.
7. Deadlines- Give yourself deadlines. Eg. Chapter one must be finished by Monday. The short story has to be completed by Saturday.
8. Dreams- Dream big. Never let anyone make you feel that your dreams are not possible.
9. Desire- You must want to write. If writing doesn’t feel like a necessity it might not be your passion.
10. Decision making abilities- Chapters need to be edited. Word counts need to be cut. Favorite sentences need to be chopped. It’s not always easy making decisions as a writer but it is required. Characters need to love, get hurt, evolve and occasionally die. You have to be able to make those decisions in order for your masterpiece to appear.
I am super excited to post another author interview. I met Eisley Jacobs on Twitter in one of the writing chat rooms about a year or so ago. She was one of the first ones to welcome me and has always been willing to answer any questions I had (even know she really had no idea who I was). I knew immediately she would be a successful author. (How? you ask. There was something about her online presence that drew people toward her. If she could do that without being published I could only imagine what she would become when her name was really out there for the whole world to see).
Today, Eisley’s books are being sold and I can’t wait to find out how her journey is going.
Hi Eisley, how are you today? I’m awesome! I just drove in from Colorado for a small book tour visit in California. I’m pretty exhausted from driving with four kids, but I’m excited to be here on this adventure!
Let’s start with your name (or pen name) Eisley, can you tell us how you came up with this uber cool name and what made you decide to not use Heather?
Yes, my real name is Heather but coupled with my last name… it’s taken. If my name was Stephen King, I would have to come up with a pen name. It is NEVER a good idea to share your name with anyone, especially someone famous. The Heather that has my name is actually a publishing author. She is not in my genre but when you google her name, she comes up all over the place (along with a PhD who has published a few papers). So when it was time to start the social media road, I knew I needed a name that stood out from the crowd and meant something. Eisley means “strong or firm” and Jacobs means “to hold onto”… so my name means “to firmly hold onto…” my convictions. And that is just what I plan to do when I write. *That is Awesome*
I remember reading on your blog about your book Born to be a Dragon. It sounded really cool. Can you share with us what this story is about?
Born to Be a Dragon is about the epic relationship between two ten year olds… a dragon and a girl. The story encourages kids to “follow their dreams” and never just accept sterotypes.
What inspired you to write this book?
My children were a big inspiration to this book. They love playing make believe and as I watched them one day, Deglan strolled through my brain. I was in a lull with Rings of Time so it was perfect timing.
How are your books selling?
Remarkably well. My totals are still out, but preliminary totals are blowing me away. If the reviews on Amazon are any clue as to how this book is being received, then I couldn’t be more thrilled!
Did I see Born to Be A Dragon was on the top releases right out of the gate?
Yes! In fact, I hit #1 the first day of release in “Hot New Releases” It was a pretty awesome moment.
Do you remember the moment the idea came to you?
I don’t remember the very moment the idea came to me, but I do know that I was watching my kids play when it came.
How did you come up with your character names?
Deglan’s name came from an intense search of my friends children’s names. Declan was the boys name that Deglan came from. Because he was a dragon, I added a G and made it very dragon. *Super Cool*
Does the stories or the characters come to you first?
I’m a pantser writer. Much like watching a movie, the story and characters reveal themselves moment by moment during my first draft. So they really all come together at the same time. In my second draft I fill holes I may have and round our my characters. But for the most part, it’s all a very organic way of writing.
It seems that agents are often requesting middle-grade novels with boy protagonists. Did you try querying this book before you decided to self-publish?
Oh yes, I queried this book about 90 times. Complete with about 70 rejections. I sent the manuscript to two agents (who are friends) and asked them what was wrong. The surprising answer was NOTHING! Dragon books just weren’t selling to the publishers right now. One of the agents told me to sit on it a while and the other said, “if you believe in the book, go Indie.” So I did.
What was the deciding factor that made you decide to self-publish?Having two agents tell me my manuscript was good but it just wasn’t the subject that was selling right now was good enough for me.
Are you happy with your choice?
I am THRILLED with my choice. This has been an amazing journey that I would not exchange for the world!
Can you tell us a little bit about self-publishing?
It’s a hard road. It’s not for the weak willed. You have no one pushing you for a deadline. It’s all you! You have to press on and move forward and enjoy the ride!
Is self publishing expensive?
Amazingly enough this answer is as varied as the author you talk to. Depending on which press you print with, you will have a fee. Create Space was $39. Then there is your cover artist (that could be $50-500). Mine was free because I’ve got mad skilz… Ha ha. I made it with my tablet and pen. Then you have the editor and proofreaders, again varied costs of anywhere from $100-$1000 depending on how large your manuscript is. So it can cost as little or as much as you can afford. However, skimping on any of these costs will show.
I love the cover of your book. Did you work with an artist for the design?
I didn’t actually. I had a first draft of the cover with an island and a palm tree with a dragon tail, foot prints and a hermit crab, but I just didn’t like the concept as much as I liked the full moon silhouette. After searching around for some ideas, I used my tablet and made my own silhouettes and that is a photo of the real moon, edited a little to fit my needs.
You also have several other books in the works. Can you offer their titles and give us a sneak peek what they are about? (I know Rings of Times is one of them)
Rings of Time is indeed ready for a final read through and publish date, but I don’t have one yet. I don’t want to rush this one but it’s almost ready.
Dragons Forever 2 has a working title, but I can’t reveal it yet. It will be released on BLACK FRIDAY 2011.
I also have a YA novel called PIECES OF ME that is nearly ½ done, but has taken a back seat to everything else.
Your blog is phenomenal. You talk about everything from writing to home schooling. Although I don’t home school my children, I have always been impressed by parents that took on this task. Can you share with us what led you to this decision?
We really decided to homeschool out of necessity. The school wanted to hold my very intelligent daughter back because her age didn’t permit her to move forward (born 17 days too late for first grade). And when I went to the kindergarten orientation I was NOT impressed. They were going to teach her the ABCs and her colors… and she was reading chapter books already. It just didn’t work for us. So we started homeschooling and have never looked back. It continues to fit our lifestyle and my children’s needs. They enjoy their tailored learning and the field trips we attend. I don’t know if we will homeschool forever, but right now, it works for us.
Do you read your stories to your children? What do they think?
My oldest reads the YA stories herself but I read the MG stories aloud to everyone. They absolutely LOVE it and will interject their opinions A LOT… and sometimes it’s helps tremendously!
You are also somewhat of a humanitarian. (Yes, she does it all). You have visited other countries. Have you brought your books with you? Did any ideas get inspired while traveling?
I have brought books with me, but mostly to read during my down time. It’s amazing what you “find” when you aren’t stuck in the writing mode. So I bring my ipad and read through my manuscripts to see what I find.
I have a few ideas for YA/MG novels from visiting the beautiful Ethiopia. We will see how they pan out as the years go on. I go back in March to Ethiopia (See the WHAT A LOAD OF CROC? Post) and plan to bring at least two books with me for the teachers at the orphanage. They love reading and will enjoy the Dragons Forever Series.
What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Believe in yourself. Believe in your writing. And do the work. Nothing is perfect and always accept criticism with grace and dignity. Try hard to just say THANKS and not give excuses. Take EVERY critique and really chew it over. REALLY, you may not find value to it today… but come back to it and REALLY debate with yourself as to if the advice is valid. You will be surprised what a couple weeks can afford your attitude. Your critique partners just want to HELP you they do not want to bring you down. Oh and get several crit partners… VERY important.
Okay, before we end our interview I have a few more quick questions.
• I often ask other writers what their favorite word is. Mine is BELIEVE! Can you share your favorite word with us?I don’t know if I have a favorite word! That is a new question… and one that I’m not sure I can answer! I really try hard to mix it up and make sure I don’t repeat the same words. I even throw my manuscript through a script checker to make sure I don’t use the same word 1,999 times. But I do love the word twinkling and trembling. Not that I overuse them 😉
• Do you have a writing spot?
I don’t really have a writing spot. The couch with my laptop is where you will most often find me. However, I love going to the “office” to write too. Sometimes I am more productive when I leave my element.
• What time is your favorite time to write?
At night after dinner. Usually the kids are all settled down doing other stuff and I am able to really concentrate on my characters instead of the dishes, homeschooling or life.
• What are you reading right now?
Right now my books (yes plural) are The Clearing, by Anne Riley (YA), Bridger, by Megan Curd (YA) and The Secret of Spruce Knoll, by Heather McCorkle (YA). I also just put on my list Frindle, by Andrew Clements (MG) and Sept 20th the next Secret Series book comes out, You Have to Stop This by Pseudonymous Bosch (MG).
• Do you have a favorite author?
C.S. Lewis was always my favorite author and will continue to be.
Eisley, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. I truly hope that your writing career takes off to levels you never imagined.
Is there a thought you wish to end this interview with?
Believe in the impossible and look for it to happen!
Eisley can also be found on Twitter. Follow her @EisleyJacobs
Visit her at http://www.EisleyJacobs.com
Leave a comment and let Eisley know what you thought of her fantastic interview.
Do you think a writer needs to go on a diet? A writing diet that is. Check out my guest post over at This Literary Life. Bree Ogden (a super agent) was cool enough to allow me to write a blog for her site. It is the first time I have written for another blog as a guest and I’m super excited.
Make sure you leave a comment so I know you stopped by.