Thursday, June 28, 2012

Getting to Know Author Joyce Dunbar

Last year I met Author Joyce Dunbar in the most unusual way; I asked her for an interview because I mistook her for another author. You can probably imagine how embarrassed I was to realize my mistake which I discovered when she mentioned that her Mouse and Mole series was no longer in print. I was certain that the copy my daughter and I had checked out from the library had been a current book. When I went back to search the internet and find out exactly what book we had been reading, I found that we had read a book by a Mr. Wong Herbert Yee also entitled Mouse and Mole. Upon further research by both Joyce and I, we found disturbing similarities to her work; but that is a story for another day.

Over the span of the last year as I have had the pleasure of getting to know Joyce better, I have found her to be an extraordinarily talented author, and it is my hope that you enjoy getting to know my friend from across the pond as much as I have!

1. Hello Joyce, tell us a little bit about yourself: Where you are from, how many books have you had published, how did you get your start, etc…
I come from the industrial north of England, but now live in the beautiful medieval City of Norwich - which has just become Unesco City of Literature. I've published over 80 books, and have several more in the pipeline. I knew I wanted to be a writer as soon as I discovered Shakespeare and spent several years trying out different forms - poetry, plays, journalism, short stories. It was when I married a lawyer with ambitions to become an illustrator that I found my forte - children's books. JUGG, published in 1980 and illustrated by my husband, was accepted immediately by the first publisher to see it. Unfortunately, the publisher went out of business and the book hardly made it to the shops. 

But I'd started! I'd written and published a book. I still have many copies in my attic.

 2. What were some of your favorite books as a child?

 I didn't come from a bookish household - but my mother was an avid reader and my father read TOM SAWYER & HUCKLEBERRY FINN to us - which was life changing, because Mark Twain was the only author I could name at an interview for the Grammar School. Other than that, I loved Fairy Tales and Fables. My brother bought me JOHNY APPLESEED, which I loved also. I didn’t really discover children’s books until my own children were born.

3. How long did it take you to get your first book published? Were there ever moments when you became discouraged?

I was 35 when my first book was published. I felt very discouraged when the publisher said he would have to pulp them. I bought the whole lot - and couldn't write for two years afterwards. I was then asked to do some radio stories - which got me an agent. I was on my way.

Writing is a bit like gardening, onlookers see only the plants that flourish, the gardener sees the ones that didn't. While others can see my many published books, I know about the many unpublished ones, and the projects that stalled. This isn't a complaint. No one ever said a career as an author is easy. Nor should it be. 

4. What made you decide to write for Children/YA age groups? Are you currently working on any new projects?

Simply that my husband was a very visual person - and so was I. The book was a kind of love letter to him - all the more precious to me because the marriage didn't last. For me there is no greater joy than seeing an illustrator translate my words into pictures. I love the whole process, the first look, the problem solving, and the finished book.

Yes, I'm always working on a new project. I have a new book coming out in October, called PUSS JEKYLL, CAT HYDE, and another called TWINKLE, TWINKLE SQUIGLET PIG, which is being brilliantly illustrated at the moment. I have started an adult book, and may concentrate on that for a couple of years.

5. What do you find the most difficult part of being an author?

Well - you are always pushing your boundaries, so the point where you find your strength is also the point where you find your weaknesses. I write a lot of rubbish to begin with - and think I have set myself an impossible task. The trick is to stay with it, to wait for that magic moment of breakthrough. But there can be weeks of despondency where I think I am finished. Mainly, I think writers have to make themselves available - to sit on the chair and stare.

I have interests rather than hobbies, though I used to sew, knit and paint. I was a very keen gardener for many years. Now my interests are traveling, walking, theatre, Art galleries, people watching, animals, and of course, reading.

6. What words of encouragement would you give to children who might not be great readers yet?

I would say 
READ, because reading is food for the brain. 
READ, because reading helps you to find out about lives you haven't lived, 
READ, because language is power, 
READ because it helps you to grow as a person and find out who you are. 
READ because reading is fun, fascinating, interesting.

People who don't read are at the moment closing libraries, cutting educational budgets, and rolling back the years of progress that has made literacy and culture available to everyone, thus adding to their numbers. They are a real threat.

7. What words of wisdom do you have for new authors?


8. Of which accomplishment are you the most proud?

I think any mother would say, my children. My daughter Polly is a writer and illustrator, my son is a fashion photographer. I now have a grand daughter too. Of course, I am proud of my books - it means I have left an imprint of the person I am. I'm also proud of overcoming many major setbacks, and of living just where I'm meant to live. 

I think I am very fortunate to have had a 32 year long career in a golden age of children’s books. All this is under threat now, from the digital revolution. But I think parents will always want real books for their children, with pages to turn, to smell, pore over. Real books are friends in ways that e-books can never be. 

9. Do you have any other information you would like to share, such as a website, author page, awards won, etc.?
I don't like listing awards. I don't even remember them. But I do have a website where you can find out all sorts of other things you might like to know and ask me any more questions.

10. And last but not least, please tell us anything else of interest that I have neglected to ask.

Illustrator Debi Gliori and I came to the States on a book tour in 2002 to promote TELL ME SOMETHING HAPPY BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP. We were meant to go in September 2001 - but then came 9/11. So the trip was postponed until 2002. By then the book had been picked up by psychologists and reviewers as a way to help children feel secure again. We traveled mainly in Texas - ending up in New York. 

What amazed me about America was the sheer enthusiasm, the queues and crowds of people, the welcome, and the hospitality. Here, people don't make a fuss. It's considered bad form to promote yourself or boast about awards. So on the whole, I keep a low profile.

I wrote this particular book long before 1996 as a way of making myself feel secure after my husband had left, my children had gone to university, my cat died, my best friend committed suicide and my agent retired. I just wanted to wake up in the morning and find everyone in place! 

I didn't dream, for a moment, that it would in future bring solace to others in the face of such a dire tragedy. But that is the power of story, to transform, to reach through time and space. It illustrates the way in which a writer can turn life around, their own, and others. It also makes the point that children's books can be anything but childish. They address the big questions of loss and grief and change, but in metaphor, rather than literally.

Another best seller is THIS IS THE STAR, the story of the Nativity, illustrated by Gary Blythe.

One other thing I should mention is that I am a deaf lip-reader. My first novel MUNDO AND THE WEATHER CHILD, was about a deaf child and his imaginary companion which was runner up for the Guardian Award (one that I do remember). Also, because there are so few picture books for deaf children - I wrote MOONBIRD illustrated by Jane Ray. This has been performed in Singapore - they invited me over for a week, Thailand, and France. Deafness is very limiting in all sorts of ways - mainly the phone - but it gives you a unique angle which is very good for writers. Thank goodness for e-mail!

I have never lived in the deaf community - when I was young it meant rejection and ridicule - so I masqueraded as a hearing person to the point where I taught Shakespeare for 20 years, 10 of them in his birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon, where we lived for 10 years. I teach on a Greek island, run writing course and regularly visit schools. I speak normally and most people don't realize I am deaf until I tell them - or they speak to the back of me.

I hope this will be of interest to you and your readers.

All good wishes


Saturday, June 16, 2012

Cross Promoting

One of the things I learned early on in my writing career is the benefit of helping fellow authors. Cross promoting is beneficial for both parties because it opens up a broader audience then either author would have alone. Cross promoting reminds me of the story of Stone Soup where each person brought one thing to add to the pot of soup. When each person added their one item, the soup became complete and plentiful enough for all to share.

I have tried to cross promote fellow authors since the start. I have tweeted, posted, and touted the talents of many, but recently I have been making efforts to make my Face Book page more useful. One of the ways I have devised to do this is by creating catchy names for each day of the week. I now have Sensational Sunday, Marvelous Monday, Tantalizing Tuesday, Wonderful Wednesday, Thoughtful Thursday, Fantastic Friday, and Satisfying Saturday. Having established interesting days of the week, I now promote at least one or sometimes two fellow children's authors per day. When mixed in with all my regular Fern Valley news it makes for a very lively site that I think my fans are enjoying even more then before.

So my advice to authors everywhere is to find others who write in a genre similar to yours and start working together. And while you're at it, stop by Fern Valley's site even if it's just to say hi.

Signing off for now with wishes for a bright and beautiful day!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

City On a Hill - Guest Post by Darlene Shortridge

Besides blogging on this, my personal site, I also blog collectively with six other Christian ladies five of them who are writers like myself. Recently one of my collaborators posted this story called a City On a Hill. This story was eloquently written and touched me deeply in the spiritual way in which it was intended, but it also spoke to the writer in me. As writers we daily deal with rejection, fear, writer's block, criticism, bad reviews, and so forth and so on. And as with anything else in life, we have two choices to make: defeat or fortification.

Darlene Shortridge, one of my Sisters In Cahoots and the author of City On a Hill, graciously allowed me to re-post her article. I hope you find the same inspiration in it as I did.

~There once was a city, ravaged by forces so brutal, so tremendous that the city forgot how to breathe. On occasion it would gasp, sucking for air, trying to give the impression of life, of vitality. Only a fool would be convinced of its longevity, for certainly death was knocking at its gate.

The people of this city were afraid. They saw monsters behind every closet door and heard creaks and moaning, even when there were none. They hid in their homes, behind closed doors fearful of what might come next.

Upon entering this city, a visitor felt the oppression. The heaviness would weigh on his shoulders, increasing the load he must carry. He soon felt the desire to flee the city in a desperate attempt to preserve what hope he had left. If he waited too long the city would overtake him and his thoughts of flight would be no more.

The city walls began to crumble, some from the terrible force that evaded and some from the lack of care by its inhabitants. Truly, this city had been read its last rites.

There was another city, which was also attacked by brutal forces. For a moment, this city forgot to breathe. Then as if a life giving force whispered in its ear, this city found its feet and clamored from the ground that wanted to envelop it.

The people of this city shed their fear. They exposed the monsters behind their closet doors and eliminated the occasional creaks and moaning. They threw open their shades and unlocked their doors. They embraced the future and looked forward to a bright sunny tomorrow.

Visitors felt the electricity upon entering this city. It was a place they could put down roots. They felt alive and free, ready to embrace this new world to which they traveled. The possibilities seemed endless and the opportunities were abundant. Visitors did not wish to leave, but instead grafted into the vine of the bloodline of this city, becoming one of its own.

The city walls were built up, fortified. Expansion was within the realm of possibility. New met new and the old passed away. The air was intoxicating and invigorating. Truly, this city was a city of life.

Which city are you? Are you a city dying at the hand of ravaging storms or are you a city that breathes deep and becomes stronger when trials and tribulation come your way?

Are you a city that lies down, defeated? Or are you a city that fortifies and conquers when adversity strikes?

Are you a city hiding in a valley from which visitors flee? Or are you a city on a hill, a beacon to the lost?

Matthew 5:14 You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.

Thanks for taking the time to grow with me!
Darlene Shortridge

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Top Ten Things That Should Be On Your Author Website

From time to time I like to share with fellow authors, especially new authors, the things that I have learned on my publishing journey. One of the things I have learned is the importance of having a website. A website is important for  many reasons, one of them being that having a home base with all your pertinent information in one place is helpful for fans, potential customers, and media. So with that in mind, here are the top ten things that should be found on your author website.

Home Page-  Every author website should begin with a home page. This is the landing page for everyone who stops by and it is also the page where you make your first and hopefully best impression. Be sure to include your name, the name of your site, and your branding message. In other words, what do you stand for as a writer, what do you promote, what can people expect from you. My branding message is "Kids Who Read Can Do Anything". This not only lets my readers know that I promote children's literacy, but it also lets them know how important I think good reading skills are for children's future success.

Bio- Every author website should have an interesting biography because lets face it, people are a curious lot. Readers want to know about the authors whose books they find intriguing. They want to know where you live, what other hobbies you have, and what makes you tick. This helps them to connect to you on a personal level and when people feel connected they are more likely to care and share!

Book List & Synopsis- Readers need to know what books you have available and what each book is about. A brief synopsis of your book or books gives them a taste of your writing style, allows them to see what genres you write in, and if well written, will wet their appetites. This is also the place to add the covers of your book or books because we all know a picture is worth a thousand words.

Easy To Find Contact Info- Contact information is a key ingredient. Fans want you to be accessible and the media don't want to have to dig for information if they are interested in you and your product. I usually make my mailing address available for those readers wishing to send me letters or pictures; each which  fills me with delight when it arrives.

Reviews and Interviews- Reviews and Interviews are an authors credibility builders. They show possible customers that there is an established audience for the work. People are leery to read books by authors of whom they have never heard and generally wish to see recommendations before making a decision of their own. Make note that links to reviews and interviews should always be made to appear in a separate window so that potential fans remain on your site until they choose to leave.

Availability- Today's customers like everything they come across to be user friendly and nothing turns them off as quickly as a site that doesn't allow them to effortlessly find what they are looking for. Links to the various places that your book/books are available should be assembled in one easy to find place. And similar to review and interview links, they should be made to appear in separate windows.

Events Page- Now that you are a published author, you want to connect with the public and this is the page that allows you to do just that. This is the page where you share your projects such as an upcoming book, a book launch, a contest or promotion, book signings, and any speaking engagements. People want to know what you are doing and where can meet you in person, so be sure to keep this page up to date.

Current Picture- As stated earlier, people are a curious lot. Not only do they want to feel that they know all about you, they also want to know what you look like. The more people recognize you from your picture, the more people will remember you; the more people remember you, the more likely they are to share with others about you and your work. This another great way to build credibility.

Added Value Content- Added value content are pages that draw the reader back over and over again, pages that show the reader that you are not totally self absorbed, pages that offer the reader something of value.Value content can be almost anything you think your target audience would be interested in. My audience consists primarily of mothers of children from six to twelve; I, therefore, offer pages introducing other great children's books that I recommend, craft sites, recipes, safe sites for kids, etc...

A Call To Action- And last but not least, you need a call to action. A call to action is exactly what you want your visitors to do before leaving your site. As an author, I have two things I want my visitors to do before they leave. I want them to comment on what they think about my site, and I want them to buy my book. On my home page I state that I would like people to look around, find something useful, and then leave me a comment about the site. Underneath this statement I have placed a comment box for them to do this. I have also placed, on several pages, small "buy now" buttons that are linked to my book's Amazon page.These buttons make it easy for people to go right to the point of sale.

And there my friends you have a list of what content should be in an authors website. Signing off for now with wishes for a bright and beautiful day!