Author Interviews

* you can find the original interviews and much more on my 'everything writing' blog (http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com), the main items being the interviews (new ones posted there 7am UK time daily) as well as author spotlights, guest posts, flash fiction or poetry 7pm.

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Author interview no.620 with writer Debbie Dadey (revisited)


Back in January 2013, I interviewed author Debbie Dadey for my WordPress blog. I hope you enjoy it...
Welcome to the six hundred and twentieth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with children’s author and novelist Debbie Dadey. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Debbie. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
DebbieDebbie: Hi, I live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania near Philadelphia.  As a lifelong reader, teacher, and librarian I was one of those people who said “I could write something better than that!”  Wow, what a learning experience that turned out to be.  It’s definitely not as easy as I thought!
Morgen: :) I kind of thought like that, and eight years later I only now feel that I know what I’m doing (although we all keep learning). You write children’s books, was there a reason to choose this genre?
Debbie: I was an elementary teacher and then a librarian.  My favourite part of the day was reading books aloud.  They are so fun to read and write!
Morgen: And I’m sure the children loved hearing them. If I’d gone into teaching (I’d thought about it) I would have taught primary / elementary. What have you had published to-date?
MermaidTales 2Debbie: I have been fortunate to publish 10 series, mostly with Scholastic.  My first series was The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids, which I co-authored with Marcia Thornton Jones.  The first title was Vampires Don’t Wear Polka Dots.  Marcia and I have written several series together, but I’ve also written solo titles on my own, as well as series.  My most recent series, Mermaid Tales, is with Simon and Schuster.  The first two titles are Trouble at Trident Academy and Battle of the Best Friends. I have also co-authored two books with my son.  My daughter and I have been working on a story together.
Morgen: It must be great fun to collaborate with some you’re close to. I have writing friends but never written anything with them… now there’s a thought. I mentioned primary school, what age group do you write for?
Debbie: I have written a couple of picture books and novels, but the bulk of my work has been for the chapter book level-usually second through fourth graders.
Morgen: Do you think it’s easier writing for children than adults?
Debbie: No, sometimes it’s harder because you must use fewer words to tell the story.
Morgen: Like flash fiction. Do you get a second opinion on your stories before they’re published – if so from adults, children or both?
Debbie: Yes, I belong to a critique group who gives me excellent feedback.  I rewrite from that and then my agent gives me suggestions.  I rewrite from that.  And if I’m lucky, the editor will give me comments and I rewrite from that!  I often ask my own children what they think and they are tough on me!
Morgen: My mother’s the same with me. Do you have any tips for anyone thinking about writing for children?
Debbie: You must love to write and you must love children’s stories enough that you would do it for free.  Because, often that is the case!
Morgen: But it sounds as if you love writing. Are your books available as eBooks? How involved were you in that process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Debbie: My new series, Mermaid Tales, is available on eBooks and I wish all my books were.  I think children are more comfortable with ebooks than we are as adults.  I definitely prefer paper, but my husband loves technology and passed his own Kindle on to me.  I must admit it is handy for trips.  Instead of lugging five books, I can drop the Kindle into my purse.  I was not involved in the process, as that is the publisher’s choice.  However, I am actively involved in getting my out-of-print titles back in print as eBooks through a company called StarWalk Kids.
Morgen: It’s a good idea; eBooks are quickly outselling paper. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
bsk-new26smDebbie: I must admit that Eddie of The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids is a favourite.  He is a good kid, but just can’t help getting into mischief.  I was looking at a cover of Mrs. Jeepers Is Missing (there are 51 numbered and more Specials) and thought how perfect Angelina Jolie would be as the vampire teacher, Mrs. Jeepers!
Morgen: That I can imagine. Mischief is fun, and very appealing to children of any age. Did you have any say in the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Debbie: They are extremely important in any genre, but especially in children’s books.  Unfortunately, most authors have little or no say in the covers if they are published by a traditional publisher.
Morgen: That’s very true, and I know some authors who have had to market books with covers they really don’t care for, which is really hard, but you have to hope that the publisher knows what it’s doing. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Debbie: I hope to be writing more Mermaid Tales books!  I have really enjoyed the stories and crafting the glossary at the back of each book, which tells the true facts about the sea creatures that appear in each story.  I am rewriting a novel for the umpteenth time.
Morgen: Oh dear. Novels do have a habit of needing that, or going through a few times at least. Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Debbie: There are a few days when I don’t get to write.  I’ve been travelling quite a bit to promote Mermaid Tales, but I do try to write every day, except Sunday.  I don’t think professional writers can afford writer’s block.  I’ve heard that there is no day in which you cannot write.  You may not write well, but you can write!  Then, of course, you can always go back and rewrite.
Morgen: You can. Variety certainly helps. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Debbie: I definitely plan and outline my stories.  I try not to over plan to give myself room to let the story unfold further.  I believe if you don’t plan, it’s a great opportunity to get lost.  I believe if you over plan, then what’s the point of writing the story?
Morgen: Most of the authors I’ve spoken to have been ‘pantsers’, and it’s worked for them. It usually does for me but my last NaNoWriMo I wrote was supposed to be the beginning of a crime series but ended up being a collection of characters and scenes, which I suspect will be dispersed into more than the first book so I’m going to write a synopsis for each and see what happens, so half-pantsing half-plotting. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Debbie: On my website, http://debbiedadey.com, I do have a character chart on my writing page.  I think these charts are very helpful because even if you don’t use everything you’ve listed (their birthday, what they have hanging on their bedroom walls, what scares them, etc.), it still helps you to know your character better.  And you must know the characters to allow your readers to know them.
Morgen: You must indeed, and know more about them than you put into your novels, although I love it when characters reveal more about themselves as you write. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Debbie: I wish!  It seems like each new writing adventure is an uncharted territory that requires first fear, then jumping off a cliff, and then a LOT of work, such as rewriting and editing.
Morgen: Do you have to do much research?
Debbie: Actually, I do.  Many of my books have been about creatures.  For instance, in Zombies Don’t Coach Soccer, I did research on zombies.  Do you know that salt will cure a zombie?  When writing Werewolves Don’t Run for President, I found many ways to become a werewolf.  Did you know that if you drink muddy water from a wolf’s paw print at midnight under a full moon you will turn into a wolfman?
Morgen: I didn’t know either of those facts, although I have to say I don’t plan to drink muddy water any time soon. :) What point of view do you find most to your liking?
Debbie: I definitely prefer third person, past tense.
Morgen: You mentioned writing a novel…
Debbie: I have written some novels, some published and some still being revised.  I have a time travel piece with an editor now that I’m keeping my fingers crossed about.
Morgen: Ooh, do let me know how you get on. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Debbie: I think every writer does!  You have to write a lot of crap to get to the good stuff!
Morgen: But then when you write the good stuff you can go back and whip the crap into shape. :) Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Debbie: I’ve had way too many rejections.  I think I would get depressed if I counted them all.  My first reaction to a rejection is anger.  What does that editor know?  I keep that opinion to myself and give myself time to cool down.  Then, I start looking objectively at the editor’s comments (if any are given) and usually find they have merit.  I can use those suggestions to make a much stronger story.
Morgen: Like publishers, you have to hope that the editor knows what they’re doing, although often it’s just the right thing for the wrong person. Do you enter competitions? Are there any you could recommend?
Debbie: I haven’t in a long time.  I wouldn’t recommend any that require a reading fee.
Morgen: I occasionally come across free ones (and mention them on Facebook / Twitter) but most do come with an entry fee. I’m involved in two competitions (poetry / short stories) for two of my writing groups and it’s surprising how much it costs to run one; judge fees, postage / stationery, advertising, prize money. We’ve lost money on both the 2012 ones so, understandably, the decision’s been taken to have a year off (the competition secretaries work so hard – it’s literally months of preparation) that they deserve that. I offered to run a flash fiction one instead of the poetry and we’re meeting about that in a couple of weeks so hopefully I’ll be able to announce it shortly. You mentioned having an agent, do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Debbie: My agent is Susan Cohen at Writer’s House.  While not vital to success, it is definitely nice to have someone in your corner: rooting for you, giving your manuscripts the once over, and helping with the headache of contracts.
Morgen: A second opinion is always valuable, and having someone who knows more about the industry than an author does can be a great help, I’m sure. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
MermaidTales 3Debbie: I have a logo, which I try to put on all my public relations materials, that has my mantra or motto:  books for reluctant readers.  It is also important to include your website and Facebook fanpage (not a personal page) on everything as well.  For my new series, I came up with a marketing plan that spelled out what I would try to do to promote the new series.  Asking to be interviewed on blogs (like this lovely one) was one of the things that didn’t even require me leaving the house.  I did school visits and bookstore signings.  For the release of the third book, A Whale of A Tale, I will do another plan.  I am not a marketing expert, but I figure just trying to promote it as best I can is better than nothing at all!
Morgen: It’s great having the option to market locally and online. I’ve been blown away by the amount of authors who have wanted to be interviewed. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Debbie: I have so many favourites, like simply the joy of having the story unfold at my fingertips as well as seeing the reaction of children when I read my books out loud.  My website has a video on my writing page that shows me screaming in horror at my least favourite aspect of writing – the rewriting stage.  But, I feel anyone can be a writer while not everyone will take the time and effort to be a rewriter.  That persistence and dedication is often what makes the difference between a story that is published and one that languishes in a drawer.
Morgen: Editing (rewriting) and research are my least favourite. I’d love to be able to afford just to pass first drafts over to my editor but she has two other jobs so it wouldn’t be fair. And of course the internet makes research so much easier. I know how lucky I am to come to writing in 2005 when the internet was already established. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Debbie: Read, read, read and write, write, write.  Join a critique group and listen.  Don’t argue, listen to what they say.  If more than one person says it, you should probably take that advice.
Morgen: I run / belong to four writing groups and they are invaluable. Second opinions will always pick up on things that would never have occurred to us. I’ve just set up four online writing groups specifically to provide feedback. They’re only a couple of weeks old but they’re working really well (although I could do with more submissions!). If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Debbie: Jesus, my grandmother, and my father would be my honoured guests.  They are the three people who are no longer walking the earth that mean the most to me.  My father told me once, “If other people can write books, then so can you.”  My grandmother, Lillie Bailey, kept a diary which inspired me to write.  In fact, my first series, The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids, was named after her. And Jesus had blessed me with good health, family, and an imagination.  I would love to serve a simple spinach and strawberry salad with good bread, lemonade, and warm apple pie because they are favourites and easy enough so I can enjoy time with my guests.
Morgen: I’d have my father too. Most authors I’ve ask would have famous guests, perhaps not thinking that family counts, but if someone’s missing from your life, it’s usually them that you want to see again. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Debbie: I have a quote that I keep on my desk and I’m sorry to say I don’t know where it came from.  It is:  Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, and totally worn out, and proclaiming, “Wow, what a ride!!”
Morgen: Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Debbie: I have a newsletter that shares what I’ve learned about the writing community-news about other authors, job openings, and opportunities for children to write.
Morgen: What do you do when you’re not writing?
Debbie: I love to play tennis.  I volunteer at a local historic home, The Moland House, where I’m the event planner.  I also volunteer at a children’s home, Christ’s Home, where I fold clothes and scrub floors.  Both of those are great thinking opportunities.
Morgen: I used to love tennis. My first house overlooked a sports centre with tennis courts. I was there for six or seven years and probably played tennis as many times; a waste really. When something’s on your doorstep… Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Debbie: Publisher’s Weekly has a free children’s bookshelf publication that is emailed weekly (http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/email-subscriptions/index.html).  It’s an easy way to keep up with the writing world.  If you can afford it, I’d definitely recommend a subscription to Publisher’s Weekly.  If you know a children’s librarian who subscribes to review journals, like Booklist or School Library Journal, ask them if you can review their copies.
Morgen: That’s a great idea. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Debbie: I do belong to LinkedIn, Jacketflap, Manic Readers, Goodreads, SCBWI, and Facebook.  I am fairly new to all the venues and probably don’t participate as much as I should.  I do pretty much update my website and Facebook fanpage daily.  Kids can write me on the KidsTalk portion of my website and I answer them on the DebbieTalks portion.
Morgen: LinkedIn’s probably how we met. I found hundreds (literally) of interviewees there. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Debbie: Things are definitely changing and ebooks are a huge reason for that change.  In whatever form fiction takes in the future, I think good content is still needed.  For that, I believe there will always be a need for creative people to write interesting stories.
Morgen: ‘Interesting’ being the operative word, and there’s little doubt that people are reading more than ever thanks to the formats available to them. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Debbie: I hope you’ll visit www.debbiedadey.com or www.Facebook.com/debbiedadey.
Morgen: I have. :) Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Debbie: SCBWI, or the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, is a great way for anyone interested in writing for children to get a start.  It helped me immensely in the beginning and still does!  The website is www.scbwi.org and they have conferences around the world.
Morgen: I’ve had authors mention, and recommend them. They do sound like a great organisation, like The Society of Authors here in the UK. Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Debbie: Could we be related?  I have English, Welsh, and American Indian blood in me.  I am of the Newport Bailey’s who all descend through Palmer Bailey, who was born in 1578 in England (probably Great Compton).
Morgen: Sadly not, I use a pseudonym after my current (Bailey) and previous dog (Morgen). Morgen was originally called Tim (the name of an ex-boyfriend so I changed it and picked Morgen because I have German connections and a two-syllable name is easier to call out) and Bailey arrived into the rescue centre with an old tag (“Agatha”!) so he was named after one of my favourite drinks and the English photographer, David Bailey (my father was a photographer). It would have been nice if we had been. Thank you, Debbie.
I then invited Debbie to include an extract of her writing and this is from Trouble at Trident Academy, the first book in the Mermaid Tales series.  In every book, the mergirls try to cheer up grumpy Mr. Fangtooth.
MermaidTales 1“If you were grumpy what would cheer you up?”  Shelly asked Echo as they ate their lunch.
Echo thought about it.  “If I found something human,” she admitted.
Shelly sighed.  She didn’t understand her friend’s fascination with humans.  Shelly thought killer whales were much more interesting.
Echo swallowed a handful of tiny octopus legs before licking her fingers.  “Maybe we could try making funny faces at Mr. Fangtooth.  That always makes my dad smile.”
Shelly smiled.  “That’s a great idea.  Let’s put our lunch trays away and make faces at him.”
Echo and Shelly stood at the service window to the Trident Academy kitchen.  Shelly crossed her eyes and pushed her nose up to look like a dog fish.  Echo pulled her dark hair into tall points puffed her cheeks out.  Mr. Fangtooth frowned at them.
Echo blew out the air in her cheeks, making lots of little bubbles.  “Why didn’t he smile?”  she whispered.  “That always works with my dad.”
“I have the feeling that Mr. Fangtooth hasn’t smiled in a very, very long time.  I think we’re going to have to do something drastic,” Shelly said.
“Like what?”  Echo said.
Shelly shrugged and looked around the cafeteria.  She saw Kiki sitting with Pearl and a group of mergirls.  Kiki smiled at Shelly.  Shelly gave a little wave as she turned back to Mr. Fangtooth.
“Roar!”  Mr. Fangtooth made a horrible face and bellowed at the mergirls.
Echo screamed and fell into Rocky Seal.  Rocky’s plate of ribbon worms flew onto Echo’s hair.
“Get them off!”  Echo squealed.  She stopped when she heard a booming sound.
It was Mr. Fangtooth!  His laughter rocked the cafeteria.
All the students looked up from their lunches to see what was happening.   “See,” Shelly said, “I told you we could make Mr. Fangtooth laugh.”
Headmaster Barnacle’s voice came over the conch shell, “Shelly Siren and Echo Reef, please report to the headmaster’s office immediately.”
“Ooooh,” Rocky teased.  “You’re in big trouble now.”
Shelly gulped.  It was only her first day at Trident Academy.  Now she was worried it would also be her last.
*
and a synopsis of her latest book…
It's MerGirl Shelly Siren's first day at a new school and she is nervous from the tip of her head to the end of her sparkling mermaid tail. How will she ever fit in at the prestigious Trident Academy? Everyone there is smart, pretty and so rich. She and her best friend Echo are in the same class, but so is Pearl, a spoiled know-it-all, who only wants to make trouble for Shelly; Rocky, a merboy who loves to tease everyone; and Kiki, a shy mergirl, new to Trident City. At first, Shelly and Echo have lots of fun: eating lunch together, trying to make grumpy Mr. Fangtooth smile, and joining after-school clubs. But when Shelly and Echo have an argument about their very first school assignment, Pearl comes between them and Shelly wonders if she and Echo will ever fix their undersea friendship.
**
Debbie Dadey is a former teacher and librarian.  Her passion is writing books for reluctant grade school readers.  With ten series and forty-seven million copies of her 151 books in print, titles like Slime Wars continue to enchant boys and girls alike.  Debbie’s first series, which she co-authored with Marcia Jones, The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids, is one of Scholastic’s top three best-selling series.  Her newest series, Mermaid Tales with Simon and Schuster, gives students a chance to enjoy a fun story while learning about the ocean and its inhabitants. The first two titles are Trouble at Trident Academy and Battle of the Best Friends. A Whale of a Tale will be out soon.   Visit www.debbiedadey.com to find out more about Debbie and her books.  www.Facebook.com/debbiedadey gives suggestions to help reluctant readers and writing tips.
***
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
If you go for the interview, it’s very simple; I send you a questionnaire (I have them for novelists, short story authors, children’s authors, non-fiction authors, and poets). You complete the questions, and I let you know when it’s going to go live. Before it does so, I add in comments as if we’re chatting, and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know.
Alternatively, if you’d like a free Q&A-only interview, I now have http://morgensauthorinterviews.wordpress.com on which I’ve rerun the original interviews posted here then posted new interviews which I then reblog here. These interviews are Q&A only, so I don’t add in my comments but they do get exposure on both sites.
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Author interview no.619 with writer Mary Batten (revisited)


Back in January 2013, I interviewed author Mary Batten for my WordPress blog. I hope you enjoy it...
Welcome to the six hundred and nineteenth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with non-fiction and scriptwriter Mary Batten. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Mary.
Mary: Hello, Morgen. Thank you for this opportunity to be featured on your blog.
Morgen: You’re very welcome. I’m delighted you could join me. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
MaryMary: I write nonfiction books, magazine articles, and television shows for children and adults. Most of my work deals with nature and science, although I get quite political in my blog. I’ve been writing since I was eight years old and I knew I wanted to be a writer at that early age. I don’t know why the writing bug bit me, but I know my grandmother played an important part. When I was in the second grade, I lived with my grandparents, as my mother was expecting her third child and our family doctor thought it would be less stressful for me (I had had rheumatic fever the year before and everybody was worried about my heart) and my mother if I lived with my grandparents whose house was just five minutes down the road. During that year, my grandmother and I played a storytelling game almost every day. She would make up a story and then I would make up a story. In retrospect, I realize we were “writing” with our imaginations.
I live on the East Coast of the United States in Virginia.
Morgen: What a wonderful grandmother. I totally understand about the writing bug biting, it got me in my late thirties. With your non-fiction, how do you decide what to write about?
Mary: Sometimes an editor calls me and asks whether I’d be interested in writing about this or that topic. Otherwise I write about things that fascinate me.  Nature is always a great source of ideas. I’m drawn to unusual, often bizarre behaviours of animals and plants, such as mating behaviour and pollination.
Morgen: The great thing about nature is that there’s so much of it. You’d never run out of inspiration. What have you had published to-date?
Mary: To date, I’ve published some 15 books. These include my new eBook, How To Have Sex If You’re Not Human: Intimate Journeys in Natural History, Sexual Strategies: How Females Choose Their Mates, Aliens From Earth, Hungry Plants, Anthropologist: Scientist of the People, Please Don’t Wake the Animals: A Book About Sleep, Hey, Daddy!, and Wild Cats. I also have a short story, "The Rabbit", in the forthcoming edition of IN GOOD COMPANY, a short story anthology published by Live Wire Press.
Morgen: A great variety. You’ve self-published, what lead to you going your own way?
mtbbookMary: Only one of my books is self-published, How To Have Sex If You’re Not Human. I decided to step into the digital publishing world and self-publish my first eBook. Digital technology makes it so easy for writers to publish their work. It’s a whole new publishing arena that gives writers control of their work, higher royalties, and elimination of the middle level of agents and publishers. I find it very exciting and it’s clear that digital books are the books of the present and the future. However, there’s a tradeoff. The writer must take on the challenge of marketing her work. You aren’t going to sell any books unless you climb the steep marketing curve. Marketing is time consuming and difficult. It definitely cuts into writing time. You have to become your own publicist, interact with social media, blog, do podcasts, and anything else you think will help sell your book. Some writers hit it big by self-publishing digitally, but most writers who go this route don’t. Most of my books are published by traditional publishers. I think pursuing a mixed publication strategy is best for me.
Morgen: I think you’re very wise. Authors these days have to do plenty of marketing, needless to say more so when they go it alone but then we get to contact our readership directly which is great. Are all your books available as eBooks?
Mary: I have two eBooks: How To Have Sex If You’re Not Human, which I self-published, and Hungry Plants, which my publisher, Random House, released in digital format.
Morgen: For the traditionally published books, did you have any say in the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Sexual coverMary: Yes, I come up with most of my titles and others evolve from brainstorming with my editors. I sometimes make cover suggestions; in other instances, my editors and publishers come up with the cover idea in collaboration with the illustrator. I am so fortunate to have wonderful artists like Higgins Bond, Paul Mirocha, and Beverly J. Doyle who have illustrated my books. Titles and book covers are extremely important in catching a reader’s attention. They’re the first thing a potential buyer sees.
Morgen: They are indeed, and you have striking titles and covers (Sexual Strategies is my favourite of the three you’ve sent me). What are you working on at the moment / next?
Mary: I’m working on a two-part memoir project.
Morgen: Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Mary: Usually I write something every day.  I’ve never had writer’s block.
Morgen: You’re very fortunate. I rarely get stuck but then like you, I write a variety so it does make it easier. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Mary: I revise extensively. I have a wonderful writing buddy with whom I meet each week. She’s also a published author and we critique each other’s work. This is such a valuable relationship, and I feel so fortunate that we share the same background and live close enough together to meet weekly. My husband is also a great constructive critic and he reads everything I write, often numerous times. I do find that my writing improves over time, as I am constantly pushing myself to employ new techniques.
Morgen: It’s great having that support, especially in person. Many authors don’t have that. I belong to all (four) the official writing groups here in Northampton (England) but I’m sure there are many more authors here who don’t belong to a group for one reason or another. For others, there aren’t the groups available so I recently set up online writing groups for critique on short stories, novel / script extracts and poetry. They’re only two weeks old but I’ve already had submissions for all of them (and welcome more!). I also post daily writing exercises on each one and it’s great reading the pieces that people do for it (and post on their blogs). The writing fraternity is (on the whole) so friendly, it’s great having the interaction, especially when I’m contacted by authors I’ve not dealt with before. Each group has a Facebook group so we’re chatting away in there too. I love technology. Do you have to do much research?
Mary: For my science books and articles, I do extensive research that often involves travel and/or interviews with scientists. I enjoy the research phase, as I am constantly learning something new.
Morgen: I say my least favourite aspects are editing (I’d still love not to have to do any – my favourite is the writing) and research, but we’re so lucky now that we have the internet, with every conceivable piece of information at our fingertips. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Mary: Oh, sure. Some of them are tucked away in files where they belong.
Morgen: :) You mentioned earlier being commissioned to write, do you also pitch for submissions?
Mary: Both. I pitch ideas that originate with me; editors commission me to write on certain topics.
Morgen: Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Mary: Lots of rejections. Anybody who can’t stand rejections shouldn’t go into any of the arts. Early in my career, I learned not to take rejections personally. That’s the key to dealing with them.
Morgen: It is, absolutely. It’s just the wrong person for the right thing. Do you enter any non-fiction competitions?
Mary: I don’t enter nonfiction competitions. Sometimes my publishers submit my books for various prizes and some of my books have won awards.
Morgen: Congratulations. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Mary: Yes, I have an agent. I think agents are very important to an author’s success. Agents can take your manuscript directly to editors with decision-making power. This means your manuscript is moving through the publishing pipeline much faster than if you sent it in cold. Although some writers do succeed in getting books published without agents, these writers are the exception rather than the rule. An experienced agent with a good track record is invaluable to a writer.
Morgen: I think you’re right, certainly for mainstream publishers. Smaller presses do tend to prefer to deal with the author directly and I know many authors who’ve been happy with that contact, although I can’t remember any unagented author saying they’d never want one. I’m self-published and I’d never say never. How much marketing do you do?
Mary: I do as much marketing as I can. I feel I’m in the learning stage of marketing.
Morgen: I think we all are. I’ve had a few authors writing guest blogs on marketing – I think it’s an endless subject, the internet’s evolving continuously. One thing’s for sure; saying nothing other than “please buy my book” is the quickest way to get de-followed on Twitter, but there are plenty who do. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Mary: The creative process is my favourite aspect of the writing life. Least favourite aspect is a rejection. Since I’ve been making my living as a writer for many years, nothing surprises me anymore.
Morgen: :) What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Mary: Be persistent. You’re in this for the long haul. You need to be organized, observant, and continually developing and improving your craft. Develop different kinds of writing techniques so you don’t get stuck in a box. People like to categorize writers. If you develop proficiency in a variety of styles and genres, you will have more opportunities for your writing.
Morgen: I’m fortunate in that I’ve always written a variety of genres so I don’t think I’m pigeon-holed, although I say I have a dead body in most of my stories (even if it’s just the mention of someone being a widow). If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Mary: Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot), Flannery O’Connor, and Charles Darwin. I would serve beef bourguignon with tiny roasted potatoes and fresh string beans, a robust red wine, French bread, and apple pie a la mode for dessert. I think they’d all like that.
Morgen: I certainly would (minus the red wine). Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Mary: In the sixth grade, I learned the phrase, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” I’ve been saying that to myself ever since.
Morgen: Indeed. It’s how we learn. Do you write fiction? If so, are there any differences or similarities between writing non-fiction and fiction?
Mary: I’ve written a bit of fiction in the form of short stories. There’s a huge difference between fiction and nonfiction. In fiction, you make up characters, plots, environments. Fiction is a convincing lie. With nonfiction, you don’t have to make up a story; you just have to get the facts right, and sometimes that’s more complicated than it might seem. Years ago, I was invited to give a talk at a writers’ conference. The title of my lecture was “Problems of Telling the Truth.”
Morgen: “Fiction is a convincing lie” I love that. Do you have a favourite of your books?
Mary: I have two favourite books: Sexual Strategies: How Females Choose Their Mates, and Aliens From Earth.
Morgen: With your fiction, do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Mary: I just get an idea and free associate to see what happens.
Morgen: It’s how most authors I’ve spoken to (“pantsers”) write, and it works for me. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Mary: I love to read, walk outdoors and garden.
Morgen: Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Mary: I love Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.
Morgen: Ah, yes. It’s the most-recommended book in these interviews. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Mary: I use Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. They’re great for announcing new projects and for keeping up with others’ activities.
Morgen: Aren’t they great. Did I say I love technology? What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Mary: Richer opportunities for publishing with the option of continually updating your digital books. Textbooks in particular are undergoing a revolution with interactive digital books such as Life on Earth, which was developed for the iPad. Science and technology move rapidly and the ability to keep these books up to the minute is extremely important.
Morgen: That’s the joy of eBooks. I’ve had a couple of people pick up on errors in my eBooks and I’ve just gone into the Word documents, tweaked them, and re-uploaded. It’s great, and why I’ve hung fire on publishing my chick lit novel in paperback. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Mary: My books are available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com:
Morgen: Thank you, Mary.
*
I then invited Mary to include an extract of her writing and this is from Sexual Strategies: How Females Choose Their Mates…
“Depending on the context of time, place and culture, woman has been considered goddess, madonna, witch, Earth Mother, temptress, nursemaid, whore, gatherer, healer, priestess, servant, slave, and sex object. She has been viewed as sexually insatiable, anarchistic and mysteriously powerful. At the same time, she has been considered the weaker sex, the domineering sex, the gold-digging sex, and the castrating sex. She has been looked on with awe, superstition, lust, fear, ridicule, and hatred.
In the Christian religion, she has been blamed for original sin, reviled as the seat of evil and, at the same time, enshrined and worshipped as the mother of the son of God, albeit conceived by immaculate conception. In the Muslim religion, she is viewed as omnisexual, insatiable. Muslim men define woman in terms of her vagina and believe that because of her voracious sexual appetite, she should be circumcised—the clitoris surgically removed—and kept hidden in her quarters. The ideal of female beauty in Islam is obedience, silence and immobility—the same attitudes a believer has in relation to his God.
Pregnancy and childbirth put females in an extremely weak and vulnerable position. Although women seek and need additional support and assistance at this time, perhaps a bad bargain has been struck by both sexes. In many cultures marriage is a reproductive contract: women lease their uteri and men pay the rent. This kind of marriage is not an intimate relationship, nor is it one in which men and women can respect and enjoy each other as friends.”
And a synopsis of one of her books…
How to Have Sex if You’re Not Human reveals the intimate lives of animals and plants. If Freud had known more about the birds and the bees, he might never have fantasized his theory of penis envy. In fact, a lot of theories about what sex is or ought to be might be vastly different if they were more firmly grounded in biology than in romance. The truth is: What passes for the story of the birds and the bees is a bedtime tale for innocents that leaves out more than it tells. In the reality of the wild, birds, bees, butterflies, snails—even orchids and avocados—“do it” in ways that would make the erotic Hindu sculptures at Konarak blush all the way down to their stone toenails. A tableau of nonhuman sexual strategies includes cannibals, transvestites, hermaphrodites, homosexual rapists, males with two penises, and plants that deceive, seduce, and kill. When it comes to mixing genes—and biologically, that’s what sex is all about—anything and everything goes. Despite all our love songs and romantic fantasies, reproduction is the name of the game in biology.
**
PDWTA coverMary Batten is an award-winning writer for television, film and publishing.  Her many writing projects have taken her into tropical rainforests, astronomical observatories, scientific laboratories, and medical research centers. She’s the author of many nature / science books for children and adults. Her magazine articles are published in a variety of publications, including CosmopolitanLadies Home Journal, Modern Maturity, ShapeInternational WildlifeNational Geographic World, and the children’s science magazines, ASK and MUSE. Her magazine article for Science Digest, Sexual Choice: The Female’s Newly Discovered Role, won The Newswomen’s Club of New York’s Front Page Award for best feature story.
She hosts a podcast, EXPLORING NATURE, on BlogTalkRadio.
Mary Batten was nominated for an Emmy for her work on the Children's Television Workshop's science series 3-2-1-CONTACT, and she has written some 50 nature documentaries for television series, including the syndicated WILD WILD WORLD OF ANIMALS (Time-Life Films) and others for National Geographic and Disney Educational Films.
She is married to composer Ed Bland. They have two children: dancer / choreographer Stefanie Batten Bland and writer Robert Bland.
***
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
If you go for the interview, it’s very simple; I send you a questionnaire (I have them for novelists, short story authors, children’s authors, non-fiction authors, and poets). You complete the questions, and I let you know when it’s going to go live. Before it does so, I add in comments as if we’re chatting, and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know.
Alternatively, if you’d like a free Q&A-only interview, I now have http://morgensauthorinterviews.wordpress.com on which I’ve rerun the original interviews posted here then posted new interviews which I then reblog here. These interviews are Q&A only, so I don’t add in my comments but they do get exposure on both sites.
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Morgen’s Online Short Story Writing Group
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