Wednesday, February 13, 2019

A Conversation with Cadence McManimon + Giveaway!!!

Dear Cadence, thank you for taking the time to chat with me and for telling your publisher to send me a copy to review. I was impressed with the beautiful design, both the cover and interior. You must be over the moon to finally hold your book-baby in your hand. Congratulations!!!

Thank you, Vijaya!  I’m SO thrilled to be here, and yes, over the moon to be sharing Name Unspoken!  I’m so glad we got a chance to connect about my book.  Writing and publishing has been a long and wonderful road, and it just keeps getting better the more I get to share it with others!

Tell me, what’s the story behind Name Unspoken? Why did you write this story?

Do you ever feel like the stories in your head aren’t really your own creation?  Like you’d heard this story as a little kid a long time ago, or that someone else told you about it but you just can’t remember whom.  While it was just a story in my mind, Name Unspoken felt like something that came from elsewhere.  I had the gut feeling that someone, somewhere, needed to hear about it.  I still don’t know exactly who or why, but I trusted that gut feeling to pursue this thing all the way to the end.  Sometimes the Holy Spirit uses those feelings to nudge you along, I like to think!

Yes, it is uncanny how much a story itself desires to be told!

More palpable motivation happened after several encounters with a few (no offense intended) rather deplorable novels that pass for Catholic/Christian fiction these days.  I remember browsing a Christian bookstore, picking up book after book and thinking, “These all look the same!  Where is the variety?”  This video from a young Christian YouTuber kind of sums it up, honestly—much of what I could find was dull and far too unrealistic to offer much substance to Catholic readers.  When I searched through the (much rarer) non-romance Christian books, the variety I could find was often far too graphic, violent, dark, or dense for younger readers.  So there was this gap between these shallow, unrealistic romances and those dark, grappling-with-horrors type of Christian books.  When Name Unspoken became an actual story in my head, I started wondering if I could offer something to fill that in-between gap.  I wrote with the specific intent of reaching young adult readers who are looking for out-of-the-ordinary books, books that are engaging and entertaining, but don’t shy away from real-world or serious themes.  All without overstepping into graphic displays that could disturb or harm younger/tender-hearted readers.  It was a bit of a challenge, but based on my reader feedback, I managed decently enough!

You succeeded! I agree that we need stories for the precocious reader. My own two children fell in that category and frankly it’s a relief when you don’t have to monitor whether a book is appropriate (they are teenagers now).

How long did it take you to write Name Unspoken? Did you have to make any major structural revisions or did you know the journey Connor and Cara would make from the beginning and it was just a matter of refining the tale?

It only me seven years to write! Haha, I don’t feel so bad then. Whistles! Super efficient there, Cadence.  (Laughing cynically at myself over here…)  The idea planted itself in my brain when I was about sixteen years old.  It started as a thought about the Jungle Book, to be honest.  I started doing that daydreaming thing Neil Gaiman says good ideas come from: “I wonder how the snakes didn’t get Mowgli.  Wait, what if it happened in a different climate and there weren’t poisonous snakes?  What if Mowgli was female?”  And on and on from there, just little tangents during my long hikes through the forest.  Pretty soon the characters started to arrive in my head, pictures and personalities as clear as if I was remembering someone I’d met.  After that, the story started getting so complicated in my mind I began to write it down. I knew right from the beginning that Connor and Cara were the heart of the story, and if I tried any drastic changes to their personalities, the whole thing would fall apart. Within a year or two I had drafted most of the plot and had almost all the characters named. 

After I had started an actual manuscript, the next five years were spent on LOTS of revisions (probably eight or nine drafts) and many structural changes, including decisions like what would happen to the villain, who’s going to do that one important task, or who may or may not die.  (It’s medieval times, it was normal for people to die left and right—but I did want to stay true to how difficult coping with death can be no matter the era.  No spoilers here though!)  But really, no matter how many events or settings or era changes I made, the life of the tale lay with the characters.  After all, human lives are driven by human choices, which have less to do with our environments than we often like to claim.  And I hope my book is a little reflection of that.

You must explain to me why you chose to interrupt the story with the narrator’s thoughts. I have to admit, I was so annoyed, but I thanked you silently for keeping the interruptions short. And by the end, I even developed a little affection for him. But dear me, the instructor in me wanted to lecture you. It is difficult enough to become immersed in a story, why did you risk losing your reader several times?

Guilty as charged!  Let me start with explaining my weird form of character development—you know how writers are advised to write extensive character profiles, explore what they would do in different situations, to prompt them to really intentionally design personalities?  Yeah, I’ve never once done that—I haven’t followed a lot of common writing advice, to be honest.  The characters drop into my head fully-formed, as if they’re friends I’ve known since childhood. You are lucky! It happens to me rarely and when it does, it’s such a gift! (I haven’t met another author yet who works like this… I wonder what went awry with me!)  The narrator Rashah was one of these readymade characters, and he’s also a reflection of me ignoring the swear-by-this rules for writing.

So yes, I did risk losing the reader by interrupting the story here and there with a narrator—another author friend warned about it, along with all the writing advice articles.  In an effort to conform, I did once try to redo the story without this narrator, but honestly, the tale deflated.  I still don’t know why—just one of those strange things a story sometimes demands, you know?  So I went with my gut.  The pros are that the readers to get a chance to meet Rashah without giving away central elements of the developing plot.  I like to think he also adds a bit of an antique flair to the tale as a whole; I didn’t want to date my book by making it too modern or trendy, and a narrator often adds a touch of timelessness in that interest.

As for future books, I’m not sure whether or not I’ll include narrators—really, it will depend on what the book wants.  Each one is its own little world, and none of them will be exactly the same.

True enough. You have to do what the story demands. This is set in medieval Ireland. Your writing is beautiful and evocative and I could picture everything. What kind of research did you do to bring the place and domestic scenes to life?

Thank you, I’m glad you found the descriptions so real and engaging!  I did about a year of research to develop historical accuracy.  The last thing I wanted to do was to destroy the setting by talking about historical anomalies!  Sadly, I was unable to visit Ireland directly while I wrote this book—but I talked to friends and family who had traveled there on various vacations.  Hearing their experiences gave me an idea of what it felt like to be there.  I’m hoping to one day visit “The Homeland” and see how closely I was able to describe it!  

I tried to make up for my lack of travel with some serious research.  For example, around year five of drafting, I realized that I hadn’t looked up the invention date of boots—so I scoured the Internet for reliable sources on peasant footwear in the 1300s.  (Such sources are shockingly uncommon!)  Eventually I was able to educate myself on the wear and making of turnshoes, and used that to detail the novel.  Along with that, I also consulted with an herbalist about Irish plants and apothecaries in that era.  I drew on some personal experience of shearing sheep, wandering the woods, and Irish dancing.  Mostly, though, I read about everything: from food to architecture to extinction timelines of native wildlife!  I would strongly recommend any writer to do the same if they write historical fiction.  Not only does accuracy make your book better for readers, but it also helps to immerse you in the world you’re trying to create!

What about research into children raised by wolves or other animals? I am fascinated by how people acquire language. My son was a late talker and one of the things I was told is that if he doesn’t acquire it within a certain window (before age 6) that the ability might be difficult to cultivate.

Interesting you ask that, because a jump-starter for this story was actually the historical significance of nonverbal autism.  Stick with me here, I swear this will make sense in a minute!  Did you know that stories about “wild children” or “children raised by wolves” (think Jungle Book) are based on truth?  I didn’t either, until college!  Children who have moderate to severe autism often lack the ability to speak known language—i.e., “nonverbal” or “nonvocal.”  These kids often have feral/animalistic tendencies, are unable to control their behavior, and tend to run away from caregivers.  Think about that for a second.  In rural areas of the world, these kids could pretty easily get away from parents, wander a day or two in the wilderness, and end up in a different community.  Whoever found them would clearly see they couldn’t talk, and what with the wild-animal behavior, easily could have assumed this child was “raised by wolves.”  Obviously, in Name Unspoken, I took this in a different direction, but it’s worth noting where this idea originated.  So to answer your initial question, learning language is often easiest done when a child is young, but it’s not inherently impossible at older ages.  I like the analogy of adults learning a second language—it’s going to be a lot harder and you’re not going to be fluent quickly, but you can still do it.

Fascinating! You work with special needs children! How does your work inform your writing?

How doesn’t it inform my writing?!  People with special needs, especially children, experience a whole different world than the one we live in.  Their realities can be so different than what we “neurotypical” people are used to—and honestly, as readers, don’t we all love to enter into a different world through books?  Working in special education gives me the opportunity to enter into other people’s worlds and do my best to make it better, to build bridges between their reality and mine.  My experiences with special needs in foster care and through adoptions had a big influence on the story, too, which you can read more about here.  Really, as a whole, my work with special needs kids in schools, in foster care, and in my family really work to bring light to what really matters in life—faith, family, and doing what is right regardless of the consequences.  And I hope some of that is mirrored in my writing.

Very interesting. I enjoyed reading your post and seeing how to developed those ideas in Name Unspoken. I’d love to know how long you’ve been writing and what has helped you in your journey.

I’ve been writing since I was about fourteen years old—and that was kickstarted by my mom, who as my homeschool teacher set up a unit study on writing novels.  (Shoutout to all you great teacher-moms out there!)  With that unit study, I wrote a six-hundred page book in three years, realized it was absolutely terrible, and threw it out the window.  It taught me so much about what not to do, as well as igniting the bonfire of creative passion.  So for me, step one was making an incredible amount of mistakes!  With several consecutive writing projects, the next element that made me produce a readable novel was sheer stubbornness.  Nobody told me this about writing a book.  You actually have to sit down…. and write the book.  Over and over and over, day after day, year after year.  Of course, there are so many other things I could say about my learning process, but I’ll stop here!  If you’re interested in more about this, watch for my series of blog posts on writing rookie novels, called “So You Want To Write A Book.”  I want to join forces with others along this road and share resources with anyone interested!

Another young writer!!! It’s wonderful you began when you did! Everybody wants to know how to publish. How did you choose Black Rose Writing? I’ve known of them as a vanity publisher who made their money by selling services to authors, not books. Nothing wrong with that unless they don’t do what they promise, like edit, design, or market. Did they meet your expectations? Do you feel their contracts are fair?

Yep, publishing is the most confusing and frustrating part of becoming an author!  There are SO.  MANY.  SCAMS.  Black Rose Writing found me through, a site that helps you build a platform for your manuscript and connect you with various lesser-known publishers.  I’d done my research on publishing, and got offered other contracts with scammers, hybrids, and legitimate presses.  (Watch my blog series for a post on scammers versus good contracts, I’d love to share more of this with you!)

You’ll be doing everybody a service.

Yes, Black Rose did start as more of an author-service platform, which they still offer on their site.  They’ve moved on to become an Indie publisher based in Texas, and a lot of their books are nominated for different awards and competitions and such in the Indie world.  As for the publishing contract itself, I thought it was very reasonable—there’s no stipulations for the author to invest anything but their time and manuscript, and the percentage of royalties are fair.  I even had a lawyer walk me through contract basics and what to look out for, and Black Rose Writing offers a legitimate publishing deal.  (After what I’d been through before them, I was surprised, too!)  They walk you through pretty much every step of the process, and do their fair share of marketing.  (Although no matter how you publish in today’s world, a lot of marketing falls to the author anyway, even with the big name presses.)  Sometimes the packets they give you are a little overwhelming, but it is all good information to have—again, it’s worth noting that the contract does not hold you to any level of financial investment into your own book.  I was particularly pleased with what Black Rose did for Name Unspoken’s cover design and formatting—they really took into account what I thought would be a good fit for the story.  And look how beautiful their cover turned out—I did a little dance around the room when I saw it!

I’m so glad to know Black Rose is much more transparent now. Did you ever consider self-publishing?

Considered it, and did it!  My first book The Lily Girl is a self-published novel, which I did with CreateSpace and KindleDirectPublish.  It was an experiment right before I published Name Unspoken, which also began as self-published.  It got picked up by Black Rose Writing about six months later.  For anyone looking into this stuff, I’d definitely recommend trying a self-publishing option.  You can learn about everything it takes to release a book, maintain full rights, and still have the option of signing with an actual press later on if you like.  The downsides are that everything is on you—you have to figure out the cover, the editing, the format, the advertising, the ISBN… literally everything.  It’s definitely worth the slog, but don’t plan on taking any less than three months to complete it.  (And if it’s your first time exploring, do KindleDirectPublish and not IngramSpark to save some money.)  All that while, don’t stop querying publishers at the same time.  It’s good to do both, and you never know when something’s going to work out!

You are amazing for all you’ve done! What are you working on now?

I’m currently in the brainstorming-but-have-yet-to-write-anything-down phase of another novel.  It’s actually going to be very different than Name Unspoken!  It’s a thriller mystery set in a little art museum, and I will have to do a lot of research on art restoration, murder investigations, and post-traumatic stress disorder.  I’m very excited to have finally worked out the plot holes and tied up its loose ends—there’s nothing quite as exciting as everything falling into place, ready to be put on the paper!  Stay tuned.

Besides the wonderful world of writing, I just got married to the greatest man on the planet, doing lots of artwork and drawing, and planning to go back to some teaching work soon, too—chronic illness took away my last couple jobs, but I’m optimistic for the future!

Congratulations!!! May God bless you and your husband with a long and happy marriage!!! I'm sorry about the chronic health problems. I have some resources for you and will pray for you to be healed. What advice do you have for writers?

Remember:  Anybody can write a book, but very few people will write a book.  Be awesome and defy those odds!  Also, redefine your idea of success.  For me, success wasn’t publishing and selling books, but it was finishing the story itself to the best of my ability.  That’s honestly one of the best parts of writing, to know that you followed your work all the way to its completion!  So take heart, writers, and jump right in.  There’s a whole world out there if you’re brave enough to discover it!

Excellent advice! Thank you. Is there anything else you wish for our readers to know?

Did you know that the winged spade is a special tool used to cut peat in Ireland?  Random history fact for the day.  Now you can impress people with your knowledge of harvesting bricks from peat mires!

Readers, please leave your comments and questions for Cadence. One lucky winner (US or APO addresses only) will receive a signed copy of Name Unspoken at the end of the month! In the meantime, check out her wonderful blog, full of interesting research she’s done.

Friday, February 8, 2019

BOUND reviewed in WSU Magazine

A friend congratulated me upon seeing a review of BOUND in the Washington State University alumni magazine. I often thought that I'd end up in the pages of WSU Magazine as the head of my own lab doing important work eradicating the world of infectious diseases, like malaria, or improving sustainable agriculture in poor countries like India. Little did I know back then that the battle to be fought would be about our very humanity. I'm so grateful to have a share in fighting the culture of death that has pervaded our society through my story.   

"Bound is a unique novel that gives the reader a look into the struggles of adoption, injuries, growing up, and complex family dynamics. Young readers from diverse cultures and nontraditional backgrounds may be able to relate to some of Rebecca's adversities and see a bit of themselves in her." ~ Yasmeen Wafai  on page 43!!!

Thursday, February 7, 2019

The Cost of Evangelization: Graham Staines' Story

Photo copied from 
In recent times I've seen many news stories wherein works of art have been covered or taken down because they are considered offensive because people assume it's about imperialism or white savior mentality. So my objection to this practice might be odd, coming from an Indian, who should be despising the British. But I don't. I can't. And it is for one reason alone--Jesus Christ. 

I thank the missionaries beginning with the Apostle St. Thomas (we utter his words: "my Lord and my God" at every Mass). They brought the Good News of Jesus Christ. I don't know the details of why my ancestors converted to Christianity, but I know they faced many difficulties. They were from a priestly caste, so I can imagine the lashing they took from the devout Hindu community. We've had a priest in the family until my generation. And it is my mother who taught me the faith when I was a child. 

On Facebook, someone accused me of being arrogant about my faith. I confess that I have much to work on when it comes to humility, but know that I love my Catholic faith so much, I want everybody to have it. How can I stay silent when I possess the ONE thing of infinite value? Love is a powerful motivator. And so it is for the missionaries. 

Graham Staines was one such man and his story has been dramatized in a wonderful movie: The Least of These. Find out where it's playing and go see it. Staines and his wife Gladys cared for lepers in Orissa. They showed love to people who were rejected by their own families. They brought hope to a people who had lost hope. They brought Jesus, who bore all our infirmities and sins on the Cross. It is a powerful message. But many Hindu nationalists viewed this as conversion by inducement. Conversion by force is forbidden (as it should be) but how is one to judge conversions by acts of love? Graham and his two little boys were burned alive on the night of Jan. 22nd 1999--martyrs for the faith. His wife Gladys forgave the perpetrators and continued to care for the sick. How many of us could do something like that? 

And so, I ask the people who want to tear down statues of saints and cover up paintings depicting conversions, to let them remain. It is our history. God bless all the wonderful missionaries who spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is never forced. It is a proposition. Won't you consider it? I will walk and pray with you. 

Monday, February 4, 2019

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Reading and Writing

Yesterday, I put away Christmas amidst a shower of needles. I read so many wonderful books over the holidays. These were my favorites. 

The Weight of a Mass by by Josephine Nobisso and Katalin Szegedi is a richly imagined original fairytale, beautifully written and illustrated, showing that nothing compares to the value of a single Catholic Mass. Perfect for children making their first Holy Communion, for all who are in RCIA. Folks, this is why I send out Mass cards. It is really and truly the best gift I can offer. the Horse by Andrew Barton is a love-poem to Charleston. If you can’t bring your kids to the Holy City, let Heyward lead you on a tour. The rhymes are perfect, the illustrations adorable, for little Charlestonians and visitors alike. Psst…there’s another book in the works and I’m privileged to have had a sneak peek. This is why it’s so great to have a critique group. 

I really enjoyed reading One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan and have begun to implement time blocking for the most important thing. I appreciated the many wonderful quotes, the anecdotes, and clear explanations of the lies we believe. Most of us juggle wearing many hats and this book really helped me to understand how excellence happens at the extremes, and how one can learn to counterbalance. So go ahead and "choose what matters the most and give it all the time it demands." If there's one self-help book you read this year, I recommend this! You will see results. Because I read this on my kindle, I couldn't mark up the best bits like I usually do, I took notes. If anybody would like them, shoot me an email.

Lilli de Jong by Janet Benton is a beautifully written book showing the bond between a mother and her child. A testament that they should never be separated. I loved the happy ending!

In The Chicken Who Saved Us by Kristin Jarvis Adams, the author has documented a harrowing medical mystery, one that is ultimately uplifting. However, it is primarily a mother's emotional and spiritual journey, the title a mite misleading, even though the book is beautifully written. I wanted more of Andrew and Frightful. I hope Kristin writes a picture book about the deep connection they had. Well done! 

When I was reading, I kept thinking how “together” Kristin was. Our children carpooled to Eastside Catholic one year and I had no idea the difficulties of managing Andrew’s illness. Kristin never complained. It makes me ashamed to remember how much I whined about my migraines. She was a sympathetic sufferer and gave good tips on pain management. Her daughter, Hannah was lovely—a gentle and artistic soul. I will always be grateful for the year we shared.  

Writing Into the Dark by Dean Wesley Smith: I loved this book so much. It reminded me how I used to write when I first began, when I didn't know many rules, but my stories had tremendous heart. However, after more than a decade of selling work from outlines, I've practically forgotten what it's like to write into the dark. It's both exciting and frightening. I've wanted to know everything before I start. Dean Wesley Smith has outlined a method wherein I learn to embrace the uncertainty and trust the process. Thank YOU, Dean! If there's one writing book you buy this year--make it Writing Into the Dark. Unspoken by Cadence McManimon is a medieval romance bringing the time to life with well-drawn characters and a plot that kept me turning the pages. My only complaint is that the narrator intrusions were annoying, but still by the end of the book, I'd grown rather fond of him. I was really impressed with the cover and interior design. Thanks to the publisher for sending me an ARC and stay tuned for a conversation with Cadence.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Review and Giveaway of BOUND

I first met Carol Baldwin several years ago at the Write2Ignite Conference. So I was delighted to catch up with her at lunch last year during the Carolinas SCBWI (next time we'll have to take selfies). Over the years, I've noticed how generously she supports writers, young and old, and at all stages of their development. She has written an in-depth review of BOUND and is hosting a giveaway on her blog: I hope you'll take a look. Thank you! Next week she will share some of our shoptalk.

Friday, January 25, 2019

New Beginnings

I've been blogging for a decade! And I remember how it started--I was soooo excited that Jen had a new picture book: I'm Nocturnal, How About You? There was so much more good news, I couldn't contain it.

And now I'm excited for my new in-person picture book critique group. Mo took the initiative this fall after several of us met at the Carolinas SCBWI conference. The lovely cards pictured below are from her MoMo Collection. We met in Dec. to figure things out and kicked off 2019 with a proper critique meeting. I am soooo impressed with the quality, depth, and diversity of stories. Here's just a small sampling of the published work of Muffet Frische (perfect name for a children's writer!) and Andrew Barton. We are mix of published and unpublished, experienced and new, old and young, writers and illustrators,  with a wealth of collective knowledge. It's a season of new beginnings and blessings!