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Denzil Walton is a freelance writer who lives near Brussels, a place that has a poor image among many of his fellow English men and women, although that has more to do with the institutions based there than the actual place. I began by asking him what he likes about the city and what, if anything, he dislikes.
“I actually live in a small Flemish town about 20 km to the east of Brussels, near Leuven. It’s a totally different world there from Brussels. However, I do like Brussels when I visit it for business. It has a certain energy about it, undoubtedly linked to the major decision-making institutions there. I like the wonderful diversity of the city, and of Belgium as a whole. For example, recently I attended an English Carol Service. It was in a Flemish church with a South African choir leader and readings in English, Danish, French, Dutch, Polish and German. For me, that event encapsulated much of why I enjoy living on continental Europe: not just the diversity but the interdependency. It’s not all wonderful, of course. I get frustrated sometimes with the bureaucracy here, a lot of which is linked to there being three official languages and a stunning complexity of federal, regional, provincial and municipal governments.”
For most of the people I interview on this site, writing is a secondary source of income or a career path adopted following retirement. Denzil has made his living as a writer for many years. How does he view those people who take up writing alongside, or after, a different occupation?
“With total respect. I admire anyone who takes up a new skill or develops an old one after retirement, whether it’s writing or something else. There’s certainly no thought of ‘competition’. There’s always more room for more authors and more books!”
On his business writing website he says: “I love writing, whether it’s to convince, encourage, inform, or simply make complicated subjects understandable.” Which of those aims does he regard as most important?
“They are all equally important, depending on the writing task and target audience. If I’m writing a newspaper article on self-driving cars then my primary goal may be to explain how they work and the potential benefits and challenges of this new technology. If I’m writing a more technical blog post on electricity grid networks then the readers will be fully acquainted with the subject but might be more interested in me informing them of the latest developments or political discussions in that area.”
Does he see a potential for danger in “writing to convince” which could be construed as propaganda? How would he view the difference between the former and the latter?
“In the Business-to-Business sector in which I work, my ‘writing to convince’ is focused on convincing a potential customer that a particular product is going to meet their requirements. In other words, it starts by defining what a customer needs. For example, they might need a ½-inch air operated diaphragm pump for a particular application. The product brochure I write will hopefully convince them that my client’s ½-inch air operated diaphragm pump fits the bill perfectly. It’s not a case of selling them a 1-inch pump just so that my client can earn more money. That practice belongs more to the Business-to-Consumer sector where there is more writing to convince consumers to buy something they don’t really need. I am not active in that area.”
Denzil makes no secret of his great love of nature. That’s what inspired his series of books and the website he created to “encourage a child” to participate in various nature related activities. What was his own inspiration for this passion?
“I think I was inspired by nature herself. At a young age I suddenly became fascinated by the birds and butterflies in the garden and wanted to know more about them. I don’t remember being inspired by a person. In fact, as my interest in nature developed, it was me who inspired my parents to show more of an interest in nature! However, once I began to show an interest in nature, I was inspired by some of the great nature writers that I read when I was young. My first inspiration was Henry Williamson. His most famous book is Tarka the Otter but he wrote a series of nature books that I found wonderful. Then I discovered the delightful books of Gerald Durrell. These days my favourite inspirational nature authors are John Lewis-Stempel, Patrick Barkham and John Lister-Kaye.”
What does he see as the dangers that children face from spending too long glued to their screens?
“There is increasing scientific evidence that over-use of screens can lead to children experiencing behavioural problems, attention difficulties and sleep disorders. As being in front of a screen is a sedentary occupation,obesity is a risk. And if the screen-time is exposing a child to violence, there is the risk of bullying or even greater aggression. I believe that adults can experience negative side-effects from too much screen time too. I started avoiding screens in the evenings after realizing they were affecting my own sleep patterns.”
And what are the benefits of engaging with nature?
“In this respect I’m indebted to the work and books of Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle in which he coined the phrase ‘nature-deficit disorder’. He describes the benefits of connecting children with nature as including improving mental acuity, enhancing creativity, reducing depression, fighting obesity, and simply promoting overall health and wellness. Oh and simply having fun!”
Are there benefits also for the adult who takes up the challenge of “encouraging a child”to engage with nature?
“I think being with a child in nature can help an adult discover their ‘inner child’ and enjoy a welcome break from the stresses and anxieties of their life. It’s also a great ‘natural medicine’ in the fight against depression – and time outdoors is actually being increasingly prescribed by doctors! Encouraging a child to engage with nature – for example by watching birds together, as I describe in my book – can strengthen bonds between adults and children. And as I mentioned above, being in nature is such fun! Adults can’t fail to be inspired themselves when they see and share in a child’s amazement and wonder at the natural world around us.”
I certainly wish Denzil the very best of luck with this new and exciting project. Here is my review of the first book in the series:
Do you know a child who spends too long glued to some kind of screen? Be it smart phone, tablet, lap top, gaming machine or the TV in their room, we can all agree that too much screen time is bad for them. Do you wish there was something you could get them excited about that would have the benefit of separating them from their screens whilst providing fresh air, exercise and a new outlet for their natural curiosity?
Freelance writer and nature lover Denzil Walton may have the answer. His new little book entitled “Encourage a Child to Watch Birds” is a delight. It is, too, the first in a series of books that have the aim of encouraging us adults to encourage children to take part in activities other than spending time attached to their screens. Yet to come are: “Encourage a Child to – study small mammals”, “– enjoy creepy-crawlies”, “– learn about trees”, and “– care for the planet”.
Meanwhile “ – Watch Birds” contains 10 increasingly advanced suggestions for ways to interest children aged from 7 to 12 in discovering facts about birds by observing their behaviour and listening to their songs. From watching ducks in the local municipal park to feeding the birds that visit your garden or balcony, to constructing nesting boxes, the book explains the dos and don’ts of caring for wild birds. Written in accessible language, it would suit a grandparent, uncle or aunt who wants to help their grand child, niece or nephew to develop outside interests.
It takes about 30 minutes to read the book but it will provide hours of pleasure for you and that special child as you progress from watching (not feeding) the ducks to using binoculars to observe birds of prey in action or dissecting owl pellets to identify the kinds of animals they feed on.
Buy at Amazon.co.uk
Buy at Kobo
Buy at Amazon.com
Today I’m going to introduce you to Melanie P Smith. Melanie was born and raised in Utah and she loves it there. Why?
“That’s easy. It’s the scenery. We have five National Parks here in Utah; Zions, Bryce, Canyonlands, Arches, and Capitol Reef. If you love the outdoors — which I do —it would be hard to find an area that has more beauty than the state I call home. We have mountainous hiking trails, desert backroads great for exploring, as well as lakes and reservoirs that are perfect for swimming and fishing. And, to top it all off, I’m extremely lucky to have an amazing view of the Wasatch Mountains (which are part of the Rockies) from my front yard.”
Melanie is a prolific writer who works in several genres. Her background is in law enforcement. How far does that experience feed into her stories?
“My knowledge and experience definitely play a large part in my writing. They say write what you know. Two of the genres I write in are Criminal Suspense and Police Procedurals. I believe my background helps to make my stories accurate, realistic and exciting. I have to admit, on occasion, a savvy cop or a background investigation also finds its way into my paranormal work as well.”
Of all the genres she has written in, which does she most enjoy writing and reading?
“I love to read, but I can’t say I have a favourite genre. Give me a good story and I’m lost for hours.
As far as writing goes, I could never pick just one genre. I guess that’s why I’m a multi-genre author. Criminal Suspense and Police Procedurals come natural for me. I like knowing I can use my knowledge and years of experience to entertain my readers. My paranormal and fantasy work provides an outlet for my more creative and imaginative side. I enjoy writing both, in different ways.”
She also works very hard on behalf of other independently published authors,producing promotional materials and videos. This requires skills not usually associated with her professional background but it transpires that she did acquire them in her job:
“I guess you never know how your education and experience will help you later in life. I have an associate degree in marketing which gives me a solid foundation to start with when it comes to layout, design, and promotional techniques. I also created a lot of promotional material for the Sheriff’s Office. When you think of law enforcement, you don’t typically think of marketing. However, during my time with the office I was tasked with developing programs and brochures for various events, as well as web design and maintenance, and public safety and education videos — especially for our volunteer Search & Rescue team. All of this combined has given me experience using various computer programs and marketing concepts that I now use to promote myself and others.”
Her book covers, the e-magazine and the promotional videos Melanie produces all look very slick. I think any traditional publisher would be proud of them. I asked if she thinks it is important for independent authors to present an image that matches that of ‘household name’ authors?
“Professionalism is important in any industry and publishing is no exception. Traditionally published authors have the backing of specialists to handle much of the work for them. But I strongly believe, if we want to get noticed, independent authors must find a way to compete in the same market. Eye-catching covers, attention grabbing videos, and interesting promos can help us get noticed. Unfortunately, that’s only the first step. In addition to having an interesting story, we also need to keep that professionalism going with top-notch editing, formatting and content.”
With so many books published, including several series, and all the other work we’ve just discussed, I wondered how she finds the time. How does a typical day in the Smith household look? When and how does she relax?
“When I started writing for fun again, I was juggling a full-time job and trying to write in my spare time. In 2016, I retired from law enforcement and I’m now blessed to do what makes me happy — write. I rarely go a day without writing and if I do, I miss it. Writing as an independent author can be a full-time job, but for me it’s a job that I love. I also enjoy relaxing and I’ve always been adventurous. My husband and I both ride Harley’s and living in Utah gives us a ton of options. There’s nothing like a relaxing ride on a rural back road or taking in all the sights and smells of a scenic forest as you cut through the air on top of a motorcycle. We also love to camp, and Utah offers a ton of places to get out in the wilderness to ride our ATV’s or relax in front of an open camp fire. My motto has always been work hard, then play hard.”
Which aspect of the publishing business does she most enjoy? Which does she wish she didn’t have to do?
“I enjoy writing and I enjoy the comradery I have found with fellow authors around the world. That is the one thing I missed when I retired from law enforcement. I also enjoy helping other authors. I truly believe it takes a village and the more we help those around us, the more satisfaction we get, and the more success we will enjoy.
I am terrible at selling myself and my work. I can do the writing and even create the promo stuff, but when it comes to creating that perfect tagline or selling my work as the next best thing that you just can’t live without… I’m terrible at that.”
I have already pointed out that Melanie is a prolific writer. Proof of this is in the fact that she has just published the third book in one of her series’ and plans to have one from another available by the end of January:
“I just published the third book in my Thin Blue Line Series – Subterfuge. Where it fits; well, that is a little tricky. Technically, it is the third book in the series,but chronologically it is actually the first. If you haven’t ready any of my work, there is no problem picking this one up and giving it a try.
Young girls are disappearing in groups of three, their bodies callously discarded by a killer whose methods stun even the most seasoned detectives. Agent Skeeter Perkins is a world-renowned profiler. He’s been with the FBI for over a decade and has made a name for himself catching the worst serial killers known to man. His current case, a man the media has dubbed the “Scientist” is no different. But,when Perkins and his team start to close in, the stakes become personal. Skeet must put everything on the line as he plunges headlong into the most desperate hunt of his life.
The third season of Paige Carter will be completed at the end of this month (December). I hope to have it available for purchase by the end of January. In the meantime, you can read the entire third season (9 episodes) on my website. If you’re new to Paige Carter, just subscribe to my blog and get the entire first season as my gift just for signing up. http://geni.us/Blogsignup
Paige Carter is a police procedural series. Each season contains 9 Episodes (or short stories) where Paige and her colleagues solve a local crime. It has been compared to Blue Bloods or Longmire.”
Is there an aspect of the publishing business that she wishes someone had warned her about before she started?
“I wish I had known just how much work it would entail. One of the benefits of self-publishing is that you control everything. One of the challenges… you control everything. The big publishing houses have a small army to assist with every aspect of publishing. As Indie-Authors we must manage it all ourselves. We do our own accounting, IT management, marketing, production, formatting, editing, and sales… or we find professionals to do it for us. It’s a lot to jump into without a little help along the way. Instead of wearing one hat in the process, we have to wear them all. This requires patience and an ability to know our strengths and weaknesses. No matter how amazing your first book, there is very little chance you will hit that publish button and become rich overnight. Our work must be professional and high-quality. Readers want to focus on content and the story, not get distracted by poor layout, sloppy grammar, and punctuation or spelling errors. Our work defines who we are as authors and generates our business reputation. Because of this, our novels must be as close to perfect as possible before we hit that publish button. Nobody can do this alone – we all need professionals to assist us.”
Talking of surprises, I wondered if she was prepared to reveal something about herself that might surprise her readers?
“I’ve always been adventurous but if my readers have visited my website, they already know this from my about page. They might be surprised to know I can operate a backhoe and I know how to drive an M113 tank.”
Tom Johnson is a retired Military Cop from Seymour, Texas. As well as moving around quite a bit as the son of a cowboy, his military service took him to Korea, France and Vietnam but he loves his home town:
“ I was born in Seymour, but spent twenty years in the military. My dad was a cowboy and cook, so we moved to other places during my early years. In fact most of my early education was in schools in Wichita Falls, Texas. After retiring from the military service we moved back to Seymour because our parents were in bad health, and we stayed after they passed away. Seymour is a small ranch and farm community,with a population under three thousand. However, we have two museums here. The Baylor County Historical Museum, and the Whiteside Museum of Natural History. Seymour is in the Permian Basin (think oil) where a dig site has been providing Permian reptile fossils for well over a hundred years. In fact, we have a 300 million year-old amphibian named after our town, the Semouria. The Whiteside Museum of Natural History has a huge display of animals from mammals to dinosaurs and reptiles. Schools from around Texas and Oklahoma bring students here on field trips, and many do return engagements. Students love to visit the museum, as do adults.”
Tom is passionate about pulp fiction (the real stuff, not the eponymous movie). I wanted to know what attracted him to the genre?
“First I became a collector of the old pulp magazines, and was fascinated by the yarns written in the 1930s & ’40s, and even the earlier stuff by Johnston McCulley. It was really a time for heroes, and Johnston McCulley and a few others started the costumed/masked crime fighters long before Superman and Batman tackled crime in comic books. The explosion actually happened after the Wall Street crash of 1929.
The public was tired of gangsters in suits and expensive automobiles while the rest of humanity stood in lines at the soup kitchens.
They wanted heroes and the Dime magazines gave them those heroes. While living in Wichita Falls, Texas I had access to the movie theaters in the 1940s and thrilled to the Saturday Matinee serials. These were stories right out of the pulp magazines, and I loved those old serials. As an adult I started collecting the serials- I’m now at 100 and counting, and this led to collecting and reading the hero pulps. As a writer of SF, I wanted to write new stories of the old pulp heroes, and have enjoyed some success in that genre. I don’t think I will ever tire of the hero stories. And you’re right, the movie, Pulp Fiction has nothing to do with real pulp fiction.”
Tom regularly collaborates with Altus Press, he explains how the partnership began:
ALTUS PRESS is owned by a very nice gentleman in Massachusetts named Matt Moring. My wife and I started the publishing imprint of FADING SHADOWS in 1982. We started publishing a hobby magazine that year, plus in 1995 added genre magazines and published new writers from around the world.
In 2002 I had a stroke and we had to slow down, so in 2004, 22 years after starting our imprint, we ended the FADING SHADOWS imprint.
Around 2005 Matt Moring contacted me wanting stories from the pulps to reprint. I began supplying ALTUS PRESS with the material Matt needed, plus he hired me to write Forwards and Introductions to his books. When he learned that I had researched many of the old pulp series, he asked me to let him print them, so he began publishing a lot of my work from the FADING SHADOWS period. At 78, I’m pretty well retired now, but I’ve recently written another Forward to ALTUS PRESS upcoming book, THE DOMINO LADY
Tom began writing whilst in the military:
I was a reader from an early age. Comic books at age 7, and the classic novel like Tom Sawyer by age 11. So I’ve always loved to read. My dad wanted me to follow in his footsteps and become a cowboy. But I hated ranch and farm life. At age 16 we moved back to a ranch where Ihad to work after school and on weekends. I decided that wasn’t a life I wanted, and when I turned 18 I joined the Army and left ranch life for good.
In the early 1960s I was a desk sergeant for the MPs in France. While my units were on patrol I would create plots and characters and write little scenes of action. I guess I was bitten by the bug, so to speak. But I didn’t do anything with my interest until after a touring the jungles of Vietnam. When I returned home in 1970, I sat down and wrote two novels that would become the first two stories in the JUR series. I wrote them in long hand and pencil. Paid a typist to put the first one in manuscript format, and made copies which I mailed off to SF publishers.
Just as quickly I started receiving rejection slips. I needed to learn the trade. So I stuffed the manuscripts in a drawer and started writing articles and columns for newspapers and magazines. And when we started the FADING SHADOWS imprint after I retired from the military, my wife and I got into editing and grammar.
While researching the Mike Shayne magazine the publisher put me in contact with James Reasoner, the current Shayne author at the time, and James heard about my SF stories and wanted to read them. I sent him the first story and he made some good suggestions which I took to heart. I rewrote the first novel, and in 2002 submitted it to a publisher.
The publisher wrote back accepting the novel and asked for more.
I wasn’t doing anything at the time so sent the second novel to them, then the third. That began my real writing.
But you asked me about the military, didn’t you? My career field was law enforcement, but my training was infantry. I spent a couple tours in Korea, the first on the DMZ under fire in 1959-60. A wonderful three year tour in France, and a tour in Vietnam 1969-70. I spent most of the 1960s overseas. When in the States I had a hard time getting out of Texas. I think I was stationed at every military post in Texas. I joined the Army on November 24, 1958, and retired February 1, 1979. I still feel the military was a better option for me than ranch life. Twenty years in the military, and twenty years in publishing. I don’t regret any of it.
Looking at the covers of Tom’s books (some of which are reproduced here) it’s obvious that he does his best to imitate the style of the 1940s pulps he loves so much. How much of that is down to him?
I do most of it myself, though sometimes I use one of our old FADING SHADOWS artists to illustrate and a designer to set up the cover. I first look for a pulp cover that’s in the public domain, and if I can design the title, I’ll do it myself. I want something that will catch the eye of the reader. I don’t really care for modern book covers.
Tom is married to his editor – and he has encountered every self-publisher’s worst nightmare (not that the two are in any way connected!).
Ginger, my wife, does a good job editing my books. I will go over the manuscript several times until I’m happy with it, but then I turn it over to Ginger and she catches the things I don’t see. I do have too many files, though.
Once, when we uploaded a manuscript for print and eBook we uploaded an unedited file instead of the final version.
One of my readers saw the problem and let me know. I had to pull the book and upload the file again. Unfortunately, I had ordered 26 copies of the paperback for book signing, and that was a waste of money since the book was full of errors.
Some people regard pulp fiction as the bottom of the literary barrel, both from the presumed quality of the writing and from the subject matter and the culture it promotes. How does Tom respond to such criticism?
I’ve heard this a lot. And some of it is true. Pulp was formula, and the writers were trying to make a living at a penny a word during the Depression. There was little plot, little characterization, but lots of action. Lester Dent, the author of Doc Savage (as Kenneth Robeson)struggled to move from pulp to the slicks because he thought Doc Savage was junk and he would never be recognized as a real writer. But if we compare the sales of Doc Savage to the sales of Hemingway, Doc Savage probably sold ten times more books than Hemingway, and today Doc Savage is more popular than Hemingway. Unfortunately, Lester Dent died in 1958, so he never knew how popular Doc Savage would be. Some great writers wrote pulp fiction. They had to if they wanted to feed their family.
I was unaware of Tom’s age when I asked him the standard question about fitting writing in around working for a living.
With my retirement and what my books bring in I make good money. Besides, at 78 I’m too old to work (LOL). I’ve always heard never quit your day job to become a writer. But we are well off and have no worries about finances. If I never sold another book, it would not hurt our income in the least.
Not surprisingly, Tom’s favorite authors include a few who write ‘pulp’:
There are so many writers I admire. Past writers would be Edgar Rice Burroughs (remember Tarzan?) Robert E. Howard (Conan). I have spent time with many of the pulp writers. Today’s writers I would have to say K.G. (Gail) McAbee, who can write anything and it’s going to be good! And a dozen others, but if I mentioned a few and left out others I would get in trouble, so I will leave it at this. LOL
Asked to reveal something unexpected about himself, Tom confesses that
I am addicted to coconut. I love coconut pies and coconut cakes. I am as bad about coconut as some are about chocolate (LOL).
For the latest Pulp news, check out Tom’s blog here.
My ‘date’ today is with a multi-talented woman from the York Region of Ontario, Canada. Kim McDougall started off in Montreal, then moved to Ontario, then Long Island, NY. Next was Pennsylvania, and then back to Ontario.
“And I’m glad to be back. York Region is a cultural hub. There is always something going on – festivals, concerts, fairs. I love that. The only thing I dislike about this area is the snow. That was hard to come back to.”
I was curious about a gap in her publishing history. It turns out this was to do with parenthood:
“My daughter was born in 2000. I thought I could write and take care of a toddler at the same time. That didn’t work out so well. I kept writing during this time, but I didn’t attempt to publish much. This was when I developed my love of picture books. We read so many, and a few stuck with me. My first picture book, Rainbow Sheep, came out of a story my daughter and I made up at bedtime. She asked me to tell it to her over and over again (the way kids do), until I finally decided to write it down.”
Kim has also written non-fiction, sharing her knowledge of fibre art, writing and marketing. I asked which, in terms of personal satisfaction, she found most rewarding.
“My current non-fiction book, Revise to Write, has been one of my most rewarding writing journeys. It is a guide to self-editing for novel writers. It came about because this was something I struggled with over several manuscripts. I researched the topic and found little real help in existing books. Revision became my topic of choice whenever I went to writers’ conferences and I was fascinated by other authors’ editing routines. Eventually, I developed a routine of my own and it has markedly improved my writing. I wanted to share that experience with my local writing group (the Writers’ Community of York Region), and I did a presentation on the topic.
I like to give cheat-sheets at my presentations, but this cheat-sheet kept growing and growing, until it became a book.
One that I am very proud of. In fact, I will be teaching a class based on this book next year. And that is the really fun part. Writing is a solitary endeavor. So I like to be part of a community.”
We talked about how the places in which she has lived inspired the settings for her fiction – Kim’s most recent work is a series of novels about a secret coven hidden away in the hills of Pennsylvania.
“I’ve never been a fan of the ‘write what you know’ philosophy, except when it comes to settings. Many of my stories take place in Montreal or Nice, France (where I spent my first year of college). When I wanted a small U.S. town, I had the pick of memories from all the little towns surrounding Allentown, PA. Though my story takes place in an imaginary town called Ashlet, it is based on the beautiful, rugged terrain of this area.
I find memories of places I know are best at evoking the moods I’m looking for in my fiction.
This part of PA, with the hills, forests and streams, was exactly the right spot to hide an entire coven.”
How does someone with such a varied and busy lifestyle fit it all in?
“I have to budget my time wisely because I wear a lot of hats. I try to write in the mornings because this is when my muse is the freshest. I do book design and promo videos through my business, Castelane, and I work on these every afternoon. I also love doing craft fairs. I illustrated Rainbow Sheep with fibre art and I make little needle-felted critters to go along with it. This is my busy holiday fair season and I have at least one every weekend until Christmas. Then, as the program coordinator for the Writers’ Community of York Region, I spend much of my free time organizing guest speakers and events. I am pleased to say that we are hosting our first one-day writers’ conference next October. This is a new project that I will have to fit into my schedule.”
Kim ends this section of our conversation: “Phew. Just looking at all that stuff makes me a little dizzy.” Words which I can only echo in admiration.
When I ask Kim to describe her favourite writing space, she tells me she shares it with two cats:
“Mostly I write in my office. It’s small, but bright. I have two cat beds on either end of my desk that are usually filled with sleeping cats.
The formality of sitting at a desk, rather than curled up in a chair, seems to kick my creative brain into gear.
I never listen to music when I write. I like silence. And a lot of coffee. I usually only write for 2 hours a day. But on a good day I can get out 1500 words during that time.”
Among her many favourite authors, Kim singles out two:
“Ilona Andrews is my paranormal bar of excellence. She (they, actually. It’s a husband and wife team.) write the kind of fiction I aspire to. Neil Gaiman is another. He inspires me for the way he uses such simple language to convey really complex emotions. I would love to sit around a campfire with all these writers and swap stories. I can’t think of anything more fun.”
Outside of writing and all her other creative activities, Kim enjoys most of the things we all love to do when time permits:
“I love to see shows, musicals, plays, whatever. I don’t do it that often, but for special occasions that would be my choice. I also love to be outside (in the summer). My favourite memories are on the water or camping. Even just a hike in the woods recharges me.”
I always end by asking my dates to reveal something about themselves that might surprise their readers. Her reply tells me that she is very like me in at least one respect – and I suspect it is something that would apply to most writers:
“Until they get to know me well, most people don’t realize that I’m an introvert. I’m not shy. I can get up in front of hundreds of people to give a presentation (and actually enjoy it). But mostly, I prefer to be alone or with my family. I would rather spend time in a barn with the horses than at a mall.
Parties, shopping and concerts are among my least favorite things to do.
Which might seem odd, since I like craft fairs. But I like being on the other side of the table at the fairs. I meet people and get to chat, but I don’t have to deal with the crowds. Thankfully, writing and working from home are the ideal businesses for an introvert.”
I certainly enjoyed discovering so much about another independent author and I hope you did, too. Here is where you can find out more about the 3 strands of her professional life:
My latest ‘date’ is with Chris-Jean Clarke. Chris lives in South Staffordshire with her husband, Geoff, two teenagers and their adorable Papillion, Romey, who enjoys spending a few hours a week putting a smile on the faces of the patients at their local mental health hospital – Romey is a Pets as Therapy dog.
I asked first about her book Honesty in World War 2, originally published in 2016 and recently re-released.
“Honesty in World War 2 was inspired by an event that happened to my father following his National Service.
Prior to putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard), I spent numerous hours researching and double-checking facts and stories told to me and my siblings by my mum about her experience of the war years. – She was only seven years old, when the war ended. – My mum inspired a number of events in my story. For example, my mum used to be a Tomboy and loved climbing trees. She bet the local boys that she could climb higher than them. On the positive side, she succeeded in her quest as she fell, bringing the branch down with her. However, on the negative side, she gashed her leg on a barbed wire fence. She often showed us her scar and was proud that she didn’t have any stitch marks, which she attributed to my granddad (her father) using a cobweb on the wound. In my story, twins Simon & Samuel (two of the evacuees) are playing by the brook when one of them has an accident. – Having been brought up in the city they not only struggle with living in the countryside, but would rather create mayhem than attempt to fit in. – Imagine their horror when Cyril’s mum starts to bandage a cobweb to the wound on Simon’s leg, especially as the villagers had already tied a pig’s lung to their younger sister’s feet to cure her of Pneumonia!
Although, Honesty in World War 2 was taken down from publication for a short while & has since been re-released, this was due to personal reasons. I promise the story has not been amended since 2016.”
Next I asked her about To Dye For and the Books4Kids programme for which it was written.
“PS Publishing and the Books 4 Kids program is a 501c3 non-profit corporation with a mission to “build children’s character through books.” The B4K brings authors to the classroom – in person or through electronic conferencing. The author reads from his or her book, answers student questions and then leads a discussion re. the moral of the book. – The moral behind To Dye For is self-esteem. – At the end of the discussion each child receives a free copy of the book.
To Dye For opens with Beth, a year-ten student daydreaming about fellow student, Mikolos (“Mike”) Samaras. However, thanks to the antics of Jenny Parker and Shelly Barnes, Beth truly believes that she doesn’t stand a chance with a guy like Mike – because she has red hair. Unwittingly, Mike also reinforces this notion by frequently teasing Beth about her hair. Beth becomes so despondent about her appearance that she decides the only way to solve her problems, is to emulate her younger sister’s beautiful locks and dye her hair the same shade as Grace’s. – After all, Grace is adored by everyone and has stunning strawberry blonde hair.”
Chris is a member of the Peacock Writers, a group of eighteen independent writers from around the world.
“Each of our anthologies are written around a given theme. 100% of the profits from the sale of these books are donated to aid various charities.
I have contributed to nine books, so far, but the book I would strongly recommend is: Springtime Bullies: Special Illustrated Edition (The Peacock Writers Present) (Volume 6)”
Before becoming a writer Chris had a long career working with people with disabilities. I asked her how that experience influenced her writing projects.
“Many of my stories have at least one secondary character who has a disability or special need.
For example, Beth’s sister, Grace in To Dye For has Down’s syndrome. Whilst, in Honesty in World War 2, Malcolm a veteran of the first world war, is slightly senile, and in a way childlike. Whereas, Graham is severely scarred and has walking difficulties – these injuries were incurred when his family home in London was bombed during the war.”
Chris doesn’t have “the luxury of having a quiet space to write, but that’s okay because I know deep down that if my family were to fly the nest, I would just waste the hours stressing about them, instead of writing.”
When it comes to editing, illustration and cover design, Chris uses a range of specialist services.
“To Dye For was edited by my publishing company, PS publishing and the Books 4 Kids program. They also commissioned an illustrator for my cover design.
Honesty in World War 2 was edited by Valerie Byron, author of No Ordinary Woman and other works. Trish Reeb, author of Death by Default and other works, proofread my manuscript. The online community at BookRix & LinkedIn encouraged me to work and rework my opening chapter to create the atmosphere and mood of the train station. (Initially, I had only intended the first chapter to be written in a couple of lines, as I wanted to swiftly move into Cyril’s story. Instead, Cyril’s story starts in chapter two.) Another member at BookRix created my cover for me, by manipulating Emily Roesly’s images. (NB Approval was sought from and granted by Ms. Roesly, author of Whispering Water and other works.) Sharon Brownlie, author of Betrayal and other works reformatted my cover, so that I have the option to have it published as a paperback or hardback copy, later this year.
My books for the Peacock Writers anthologies are edited as a group effort. – We read each other’s stories and offer each other tips. One of our members, Laszlo Kugler, author of Whisper and other works, creates most of our cover art.”
Chris promotes her books at BookRix, LinkedIn, FaceBook & Twitter.
“More of my books have sold since I have been active in FaceBook’s promotional groups, geared to drawing writers and authors together.
However, the other platforms have also been beneficial to me in their own right. In addition, to the support at BookRix community, their system converts our files so that our eBooks can be purchased from all of the major online stores. Trish Reeb, reached out to me via Twitter & offered her free time to proofread Honesty in World War 2. This story has also attracted interest at LinkedIn from a publishing company seeking autobiographies, and an indie film script writer.”
When I asked about writers whose work she admires, she nominated Doug Simpson, author of Soul Awakening.
“[He] is my inspiration. Although Simpson’s story is fictionalised, it is based on his belief that it is plausible for a person to have lived previous lives, whilst still holding fast to, and respecting, the religious belief that there is a heaven (or hell). It gave me great peace of mind to think that I may become acquainted again with family members who have passed on before me, and I don’t need to wait until I die before I will be able to chat to them again.”
As usual I wound up our discussion by asking Chris to reveal something about herself that might surprise her readers.
“Approximately 65% of my employment, took me from mundane to far flung places. One day, I could be cleaning/tidying bedrooms & bathrooms, wiping bums or cleaning up vomit, and the next I could be shopping for clothes or Christmas/birthday presents, eating out/going to the pictures or going on day trips/holidays in England and overseas.”
I enjoyed my date with Chris Jean Clarke and, now that I have shared it with you, I hope you did to.
Natalie Meraki is a writer and illustrator of children’s books. She lives on the West Coast of the USA but has moved around quite a bit. What does she like about where she is now, and is there anything she misses about any of the other places she has lived in?
Yes, I have moved around quite a bit! My mom liked to move about every two years. I’ve lived all over the California Central Valley, and all over Montana!
When I was 12 we lived in a tent in Montana in the middle of the bitter-cold winter while we attempted to build a log home from our 20 acres.
We chopped the straightest trees, and hacked the still freshly sap-glued bark from their bodies, through a solid four months of miserable, blizzarding weather.
Eventually the neighbors came and informed us that trees need to dry and shrink and twist for a year before you can build a home with them, and that we’d basically wasted all of our efforts. We were about one-third of the way done, and scrapped the whole project. It’s ghost probably still sits there, in the Bull Mountains, near Roundup, MT. I wonder if it ever thinks of me…
And that is why I HATE snow!
So, yes, I would say that I like where I live in the Pacific Northwest now very much. It’s basically a rain forest. A green on, on green, on green, lush, woodland dream. It snows for only 1 week a year, and all of the businesses and schools close, so we can stay home, safe from the extremely minor winter peril. I LOVE rain.
My home is covered by complete tree-canopy, and stays shady and cool all summer. My wonderful cat, Myra, brings me the heads of any poor mice that dare trespass our boundary. She also guards the family from malevolent energy beings, and ushers in the fairies and Bigfoot for my 3 year old son, Maxwell, to enjoy tea parties with. The Pacific Northwest is home of the Bigfoot. They visit our place for the Cherpumple ( 3 pies; apple, cherry and pumpkin, stacked on each other and then baked inside a massive spice-cake.) Bigfoot love Cherpumple.
Maybe I’m being stubborn, but I do not miss anything about any place I’ve lived before, and I can’t imagine living anywhere else in the future. Not in this reality, at least.
On her Amazon author page, Natalie describes herself as a ‘weirdo’. What does she mean by that?
Many people may not like it, but a weirdo is true first to themselves. Now, I believe it is the responsibility of each human being, including a weirdo, to always be conscious of their relationship to the individuals one perceives around them, and to make some attempt to understand and empathize with these other positions, and our relationships to one another; but ultimately, everything in each of our lives begins and ends within each of us. I am the creator of my universe and I owe it to myself to live by my codes, and so do each of us, to form a healthy and well balanced collective around us. Change starts from within. It starts with pure authenticity and emanates outward. Weirdos change the world. I respect them for it, and I try to live in my own weirdness every day.
In my children’s book, The Shiny Bee, the main character isn’t sure what she is or where she belongs, until a kindred spirit shows her some cute micro-macro connections between herself and the universe, and she realizes that she is truly at home, wherever, as whatever she is. A weirdo is at home in themselves. I wanted to say they’re at home in their skin, but that makes it sound like a suit humans wear. A skin-suit. Weird.
I wondered what inspired her to write her latest book for children, ChehalemValley Children’s Play. Is it purely entertainment or does it carry an important message?
Chehalem Valley Children’s Play is a kid’s picture-book about kindness. I feel like kindness is almost a controversial issue these days. Kindness knows no gender, politics, religion, race, borders…it is a basic human trait within each of us. But you hear people saying “Cut these people out of your life.” And “They get what they deserve.” Pretty easy things to say when you’re “on top.”
I was considering the plot of The Little Red Hen. The hen does all the work, so she keeps all the profit. Sure, it’s a simple connection to make. Cause and effect, but what are the consequences of the consequences we impose? If the wheel is to reverse into a positive direction we should work towards acceptance of those around us, and the struggles we are all going through.
Chehalem Valley Children’s Play takes a classic story idea a step further. What can we accomplish together? When people aren’t pulling their weight, should we cut them off from the rest of the group, or hold them closer, setting an example of love and support?
In the book, the main character is a real “spoiled brat”. When she falls from glory, her victims definitely could have told her to get lost, but they show her how kindness is done, and what we can accomplish with it, together, as loving and supportive individuals.
It’s something to consider. The book also features; bright and beautiful, fall, watercolor art, giggle-worthy instances of tragedy, and strange looking people with non-definable hands and feet.
The book’s “N’ Hair” experience is a true story from high-school! I lost my eyebrows to a well-known-hair-removal cream incident. I drew them on every day, but I was on the swim team, so everyone always made fun of me with my swim cap head and no eye-brows. Haha!
Chehalem Valley is the beautiful Pacific Northwest Valley that I am very thankful to be living in. The book’s artwork is inspired by the valley’s vivid color and thick foliage.
Does she, like Emma Donohue, test her juvenile writing on her own children?
The test for any children’s book is if the child exclaims “Again!” after reading. All of my books must pass at least 9 out of 10 “Again” tests, bonus points for parental requests.
My son’s “Again!” books (besides mine) are:
Think a Thank, by Trisha DeGrave Fontaine
Rainbow Monsters by Sylva Fae, and
Night-Night Portland by Katherine Sully
My “Again!” book is The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Skieszka
Natalie has illustrated at least one children’s book for another author. Was that something she enjoyed? Would she do it again?
Illustration is my favorite part of the children’s book creation process at the moment. I also just went digital. After 33 years of strictly pen and paint on paper, alas, the Apple Pencil and it’s pressure sensitivity was created, finally giving me what I needed to make the switch. Thanks to the combined forces of the iPad, Apple Pencil, and Procreate artist’s app I am now strictly a digital artist!
Digital art has really blown my artistic possibilities world wide open! Maybe a little too open with Chehalem Valley Children’s Play, but I’m honing that in for the next book, still perfecting my style. I’m completely self-taught, in true weirdo fashion.
That being said, I believe there are no certifications in creativity. It is a subjective, and life long growth process. If someone loved my work and requested that I work with them, I would be absolutely thrilled to do so!
I wondered if she has any plans to write for adults? Or maybe teens/young adults as her own children mature?
I absolutely plan to write for adults and young adults! Sci-fi is in my soul.
I wake up in the morning with full movies, complete with music score, playing in my dreams. I’ve recorded many of them in my journal and am brimming with ideas!
They’re sure to escape into our reality soon.
Asked where she sees herself in ten years time she says – with, I think, her tongue placed firmly in her cheek:
I see myself napping in front of a crackling fireplace, covered in my unsold books used as blankets. I’m fine with this. This is fine.
How does she fit her writing and illustrating into her daily routine?
Usually I do my writing and illustrating during my son’s nap time. That’s two hours of creativity therapy that keeps me sane.
She describes her favorite place for working, pictured here, and her work process:
During the summer I get out my artist’s tent in the backyard. I love working closer to nature, and the wind whispers her ideas to me through the trees, when she’s feeling opinionated. My cat lounges in the netting above, shedding a hair on my nose now and then.
In both my writing and illustration processes, I just start with whatever comes to mind. Then I go through and make notes about what I’ve created, and the micro-macro balance of my work. The big picture of it all, and then how that concept is represented in the details.
I will have more information on this method, and other creativity starters in my upcoming publication Life is Magic: A Metaphysical Activity Book for the Young at Heart, which gives a quick, fun overview of esoterica via lesson pages, journal prompts, coloring pages, quotes, tips and more. A taste of all the things that make life magical. Be sure to subscribe to my website if this interests you and I’ll let you know when the book is released!
Some of her young readers and their parents might be surprised to know that sometimes she performs rap songs at karaoke.